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The President and Fellows of Harvard College

Inventing Information Systems: The Systems Men and the Computer, 1950-1968 Author(s): Thomas Haigh Source: The Business History Review, Vol. 75, No. 1, Computers and Communications Networks (Spring, 2001), pp. 15-61 Published by: The President and Fellows of Harvard College Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3116556 . Accessed: 11/02/2011 17:01
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ThomasHaigh

Inventing InformationSystems:The Systems Men and the Computer, 1950-1968


During the 1960s, many academics, consultants, computer vendors, and journalistspromoted the "totallyintegratedmanagement information system" (MIS) as the destiny of corporate computing and of management itself. This concept evolved out of the frustrated hopes of 1950s corporate "systems men" (represented by the Systems and Procedures Association) to establish themselves as powerful "generalist" staff experts in administrativetechniques. By redefining the computer as a managerial"informationsystem,"ratherthan a simple technical extension of punch-card "dataprocessing," the systems men sought to establish jurisdiction over corporate computing and to replace accountants as the primary agents of managerialcontrol. The apparentlyunlimited power of the computer supported a new conception of information, defined as the exclusive domain of the systems men (assisted by operations research specialists and computer technicians). While MIS proved impossible to construct during the 1960s, both its dream of all-encompassing automated information systems and the resulting association of informationwith the computer endured into the twenty-firstcentury. uring the late 1950s and early 1960s, a new and exciting concept swept through corporate America: the "totally integrated management information system" (MIS)-a comprehensive computerized system designed to span all administrative and managerial activities.
THOMAS HAIGH is a Ph.D. candidate in the History and Sociology of Science Department of the University of Pennsylvania. He would like to thank Richard R. John, Walter Licht, Mauro Guillen, Rosemary Stevens, Walter Friedman, William Aspray,David Mindell, Burt Grad, Robert V. Head, David Hounshell, John Agar, Siegfried Buchhaupt, Helmuth Trischler, JeremyVetter,Josh Buhs, CarlaKeirs, JeffreyTangand Nathan Ensmenger for their comments on earlierversions of this paper. Its preparationhas been supportedby fellowships fromthe IEEE HistoryCenter,the CharlesBabbageInstituteand the University Pennsylvania. of Business History Review 75 (Spring 2001): 15-61. ? 2001 by The President and Fellows of Harvard College.

ThomasHaigh / 16
NWhile the lower levels of this gargantuan information system would process the payroll and bill customers, its upper levels would provide executives with constantly updated forecasts and models of their company's market position. MIS promised a new vision of management to a corporate world self-consciously remaking itself around science, high technology, staff experts, and systems. The idea of MIS was spread by the "systems men" of the Systems and Procedures Association-an alliance of staff specialists in administrative methods, management consultants, and business professors, who were all seeking to legitimate themselves as technical experts in management. The elite of this systems movement devised the MIS concept during the late 1950s, thereby linking the computer to their existing claims to systems expertise. Its rank-and-file members (mostly corporate staff specialists) accepted information systems as their new raison d'etre during the early 1960s.1 Many of the largest American firms began to use computers to automate their most routine administrative processes during the late 1950s. A decade later, the systems men's labors had dramatically changed accepted wisdom on the correct use of computers. In the process, the systems and procedures department was essentially merged with the computer department, and the corporate systems analyst became a computer specialist. The computer's proper role had been transformed, rhetorically at least, from a simple clerk-replacing processor of data into a mighty information system sitting at the very heart of management, serving executives with vital intelligence about every aspect of their firm's past, present, and future. Its contribution could be evaluated not primarily in terms of administrative cost savings but through improved performance of the entire business. And, far from coincidentally, the creators of such systems would have to work closely with executives, assert broad authority over management of the firm's operations, and assemble battalions of analysts, programmers, modelers, and other experts under their command.2 The systems men were but one of many groupings of technical staff experts that proliferated within American business corporations
1 MIS has received little attention from historians. It is discussed briefly in James W. Corof tada, Information Technologyas Business History: Issues in the History and MAanagement Computers (Westport,Conn., 1996), 202-12. 2A survey of almost 4,000 firms conducted in the summer of 1957 by the National Office Management Association found that 50 percent of firms with 5,000 or more office workers had alreadyinstalled at least one of the largest class of computers then available(those valued at one million dollars or more) and another 14 percent were awaiting delivery of their first such machine. The leading administrativeapplication was payroll. National Office Managein ment Association,Autonmation the Office (Willow Grove, Penn., 1957), 19.

Inventing Information Systems / 17 followingthe SecondWorldWar.In orderto legitimatetheir authority, these expertshad to assertcentralizedcorporatecontrolover activities previouslyperformedby divisionalline managers.Like scientists and engineers, the systems men claimed to possess a body of objective them to make superiordecisions knowledgeand techniquesqualifying within a particulartechnical domain. But their task of legitimization was uniquelydifficultbecause their claimed domainwas management itself. To succeed, they had to shiftthe barriers between "thetechnical" and "the managerial" erected during the early twentieth century to and demarcate managerialauthorityfrom that of engineers. protect The authority of the engineer had been confined to a technical sphere-he or she might one-dayadvanceto executivestatus,but only by sheddingone identityand assuminganother.3 The beauty of MIS was that it tied together a whole set of operations that general managersalreadythought were important(such as reporting,financialcontrols, and production scheduling) and bound them to the excitingbut disruptivetechnologyof the computer,thus blurring distinctions between the technical and the managerial.It achieved severalgoals at once. First, by identifyingthe computeras a tool for the constructionof managementinformation systems,it established the jurisdiction the systemsmen over the burgeoning of worldof the new emphasison the provisionof incorporatecomputing.Second, formationand controlto top managementfurtheredthe long-standing quest of the systems men for recognitionby executivesas more than just clerical specialistsand narrowtechnicians.Third, the new analytical categoryof managementinformation lumped togethercertaindomainsthat the systemsmen had previouslybeen reasonably successful in assertingcontrol over (such as forms, office machines,and clerical procedures)with a host of others that they aspiredto control (such as and strategicplanmanagementreports,organizational restructuring,
3 On the separationof management from engineering, see Edwin T LaytonJr.,The Revolt of the Engineers: Social Responsibilityand the American Engineering Profession (Cleveland, 1971); David F. Noble, America By Design: Science, Technologyand the Rise of Corporate Capitalism (New York,1977); Bruce Sinclairand James P. Hull, A Centennial History of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, 1880-1980 (Buffalo, N.Y., 1980). Despite their strikinglydifferent ideological stances, the authors agree as to the substance of this shift. For a discussion of the problematic position of systems analysis between engineering and management in the U.S. federal government of the 1950s, see Atushi Akera, "Engineersor Manin agers? The Systems Analysis of Electronic Data Processing in the Federal Bureaucracy," Agatha C. Hughes and Thomas P. Hughes, eds., Systems, Experts and Computers:The Systems Approach in Management and Engineering, World War II and After (Cambridge, Mass., 2000), 191-220. For the parallel story of the methods experts of the British government, see Jon Agar,The GovernmentMachine, (Cambridge, Mass., forthcoming).

ThomasHaigh / 18
ning). Systems men hoped that acceptance of the MIS concept would help them transform their success with the more mundane aspects of information systems into a much broader mandate to act as what a few pioneering authors called "information engineers."4 For about a decade, from its introduction in 1959 to the end of the 1960s, this very broad definition of MIS spread rapidly and was endorsed by industrial corporations, consultants, academic researchers, management writers, and computer manufacturers. Only during this era and in this context was the now commonplace concept of information as a distinct, abstract, yet universal and impersonal, quantity first established in business culture. But the "totallyintegrated" information systems originally envisioned proved impossible to construct, leading to some public retreats toward the end of the 1960s. In the 1970s, MIS was redefined in many different ways by these various constituencies, each reflecting a part of the original vision. Grand definitions were gradually given up in the face of experience, and though the term became, if anything, more common during the 1980s, it shed these now embarrassing associations with the youthful optimism of corporate computing. Despite this, the vision of the computer and information systems as central to a new approach to management has endured to the present. So has the close linkage of information with the computer, the identification of the computer expert as an information specialist, and the paradoxical situation that information is at once the mundane stuff processed in massive volumes by computers, a readily available commodity that permeates the Internet, and the vital resource that powers managerial decision making and corporate success. Introducing the Systems Men Economic mobilization during the Second World War brought an incredible increase in industrial output and placed a premium on the integrated planning of production and distribution. Work simplification plans, printed forms, organizational charts, process charts, and instruction manuals were produced for use on an unprecedented scale. This wartime experience impressed many administrators with what could be accomplished when organizational structures and procedures were
4The earliest use of "informationengineering" with which I am familiar is Richard G. Canning, "Planningfor the Arrivalof Electronic Data Processing,"Journal of Machine Accounting 7 (Jan. 1957): 22-3, 30. See also Harold Levin, "Systems Planning for Computer Application,"The Controller25 (April 1957): 165-7, 186.

Inventing Information Systems / 19 carefullycraftedto achieve specific ends, ratherthan accretingslowly over time. In 1944, a numberof these administrators in Philadelmet that and began the processof settingup a new organization would phia furtherthe acceptanceof moder administrative techniques.The Systems and ProceduresAssociation America(SPA)receivedits charter of in 1947. The members of the associationcalled themselves the "systems men." Its leadershipsaw the systems men as the vanguardof a broadersystems movementwithin corporateadministration, intended to bring the proven methods of FrederickW. Taylor,industrialengineering, and the new "managementscience" to the neglected and work.They consideredthemselvesadminsleepy world of white-collar istrativegeneralists-indeed, "systemsman"served as an overarching identitythat subsumedexistingspecialties.They aspiredto true manaand gerialpower as the trustedassistants advisorsof top management. Their systems movement took place largelywithin the society of corporatemanagement.It was concerned above all with the establishment of the systemsand proceduresdepartmentas a respected,autonomous, and well-fundedstaff groupthat could sweep awayantiquated methods and spread efficient practicesthroughoutthe firm. The papers presented at their InternationalSystems meetings, which were publishedin the magazineSystems& ProceduresQuarterly,exhibit a fixationon questions of status and power: what the group should be named;to whom its leadersshouldreport;how large shouldit be; what work should it undertake;and how top managementcould be convinced of its utility.Followingthe war,Americanbusinessexperienced a sustainedand rapidboom. As companiesmerged,diversified,and set decentralizedstrucup internationalsubsidiaries,the multidivisional ture, once confinedto a handfulof giantenterprises,became the dominant corporatemodel. Growth,reorganization, the separationof and divisionalline operationsfromcorporatestaff activitiesprovideda nurturingenvironmentfor the new functionto take hold. The association's leadershipwas dominatedby heads of the systems and procedures departmentsof large and very large industrial firms.For example,in 1950 its two vice presidentsworkedfor General Foods and Montgomery,Ward & Company.Its president, Raymond Cream,was from the ill-fated BaldwinLocomotiveWorks.Consulting and professional servicesfirmswere, however,neverwithoutsome representation. & conCresap,McCormick Padget(a leadingmanagement a director,and Price Waterhousedonated the sulting firm) supplied services of an assistanteditor to its journal.Other officers in this era came fromthe oil, finance,and insuranceindustries.

ThomasHaigh / 20
The career of John Haslett, manager of methods and procedures for the Shell Oil Company, was a model for his contemporaries. Haslett was a prominent systems man for more than two decades. He helped to found the SPA, was the first editor of its journal, and served for a time as vice president. Haslett went to Shell in 1947, after working in the Army during the war to set up shipping controls and procedures. At Shell he pulled together previously uncoordinated approaches to handling office procedures, reports management, and office equipment to establish broad authority over administrative methods. The result was that clerical work became more centralized and relied increasingly on specialized and automated machinery, such as punch-card systems. Haslett was a frequent speaker and writer on systems management, generalizing his own experiences into a professional agenda. Many of Haslett's pronouncements were concerned with the inevitable evolution of the systems man and the systems and procedures department, from narrow methods specialist to systems-oriented analyst.5 The terms "systems," "procedures," and "methods" covered similar ground. In the early days of the SPA, "methods" was the term most firmly established in corporate use: the methods analyst might be known less formally as a "methods man" and might work in a "methods department." But, to the systems men, "methods" was a restrictive term, which suggested too intense a focus on detailed execution and insufficient attention to broader managerial issues. "Systems" implied a much broader mandate. As Haslett wrote in 1950, "The systems man can no longer be solely methods minded. He must be management minded." The term "systems analyst"was used as a more formal variant as early as 1951, although it did not gain wide acceptance during the 1950s except among systems men involved in work with computers. Although many SPA members worked in departments with names like "Organization and Methods," "Business Procedures," or "Administrative Services," they all considered themselves and their colleagues "systems men," and, in their view, the name "Systems and Procedures Department" would most accurately reflect their function.6 The language of systems was not, of course, a new one for business. The tools of systematic management (forms, charts, files, reports, written procedures) had been crucial to the emergence of large-scale
5 For a profile of Haslett himself, see Arnold E. Keller,"The Man Behind Systems at Shell Oil,"Business Automation 7 (Feb. 1962): 20-4. 6J. W. Haslett, "The Coming Revolution in Paperwork,"Systems and Procedures Quarterly 1 (March 1950): 1. For an importantuse of systems analysisto describe the work of the systems and procedures department, see Norman N. Barish, Systems Analysis for Effective Administration(New York,1951).

Inventing Information Systems / 21 corporations duringthe late nineteenthcenturyand to the creationof a professionalidentityfor the career manager.Indeed, the leading general business magazineof the earlytwentiethcenturywas System.The main distinctionbetween earlier systematicmanagersand the corporate systems men who made up the bulk of SPA:s rank-and-file memin theirpositionwithinthe corporation. quote the associTo bershiplay ation'streasurer, "Thereis nothingnew about systemsand procedures; the only new thing is the staffactivityconcept."The systemsmen were staff experts and internal consultants-though, in practice, most workedsomewherein the depths of the accountingdepartment.They tried to separatetechnicalexpertisein the efficient use of administrative techniquesfromthe executiverole that had formerlyaccompanied this mastery.In this they were inspiredby the high profileof the technocratic"systems in approach" cold war science and engineering.7 The systems men also sought to distance themselves from two groups that had previouslyfailed in similarattempts. One comprised On "efficiency experts." severaloccasions,Haslettconjuredup the Tayloresque specter of "the now abhorrent'efficiencyexpert'who lopped off clericalheads to the cadence of a stopwatch" whose poisoned and still blighted the reputationof Taylor's moder and truly scilegacy entificsuccessors.The term impliednot only a pedanticobsessionwith ends over means but also an adversarial relationshipwith the department being reviewed.Office managersmade up the second "unacceptable" group. Valiantattempts took place from the mid-1910s to the 1930s to remakethe job of head clerk into the executive and professionalpost of scientificoffice manager,but ultimatelythese reformers enjoyed only very limited success. As the line supervisorsof clerical workers,the office managershad little chance to set up overallcorporate systemsand commandedlow statusin executivecircles.8
7The quote is from A. L. Mettler, "An'Old Shoe' Concept of Systems,"Systems and Procedures Quarterly 1 (March 1950): 1-3. Systematic management was defined in Joseph A. Litterer, "SystematicManagement:The Search for Order and Integration,"Business History Review 35 (Winter 1961): 461-76, and separated from scientific management in Daniel Nelson, "Scientific Management, Systematic Management, and Labor, 1880-1915," Business History Review 48 (Winter 1974): 479-500. The ideological dimensions of systematic management, and its slow separationfrom engineering, are explored in Yehouda Shenhav,Manufacturing Rationality:The Engineering Foundationsof the ManagerialRevolution (New York, 1999). On the role of systematic management techniques in the emergence of the corporation, see JoAnne Yates, Control Through Communication:The Rise of System in American Management (Baltimore, 1989). 8The quote comes from J. W. Haslett, "WeAll Need an 'Al'," Journal of Systems Management 21 (May 1971): 46, though Haslett expressed very similarviews in the 1950s and 1960s. There is a well-developed literature on office management during the early twentieth century,within which the most salient work is by Sharon Strom, Beyond The Typewriter:Gender, Class and the Origins of ModernAmerican Office Work,1900-1930 (Urbana, Ill., 1992).

ThomasHaigh / 22
As one might expect from their choice of epithet, the systems men were, almost without exception, male. During the 1950s, masculine pronouns were still assumed to encompass both sexes, and "man"was widely used make general pronouncements about the human species. But the systems men seemed to have another motive as well: their universal adoption of the term during the early 1950s to define their community (after previous occasional uses of "methods man" or "systems people") perhaps reflected an attempt to build a specifically masculine identity, and in particular to separate themselves from the appreciable number of women working in the lower-status job of office manager.9 Although most SPA members worked in corporate staff positions, consultants and business-school professors played an important role in setting its agenda. They spoke frequently at the association's meetings and shared both its concern with improved administrative techniques and its promotion of a strong systems and procedures department as the vehicle for spreading these techniques. Many of the most vocal figures of the systems movement moved back and forth between corporate positions, academic jobs, and private consulting practice. I use the term "corporate systems men" here to refer to those employed within corporate staff departments, and the more general term "systems men" to include also academics, consultants, and business equipment suppliers who were members of the SPA or frequent guests at its events. Even Haslett himself became a consultant in the end, after two decades with Shell. Successful systems men seem to have moved to consulting positions far more readily than to top management posts, despite their frequent assertion that systems work should be the best grounding for future executives. Indeed, the intellectual manifesto of the systems movement was provided by McKinsey & Company consultant Richard F. Neuschel. In his book Streamlining Business Procedures, published in 1950, he wrote persuasively of the importance of better administration to organizational effectiveness. Neuschel's recipe for a "procedures research department" made interdepartmental coordination its crucial goal, rather than the worthy, yet narrow, improvements in clerical efficiency he associated with specialist office management. The true "pay dirt in procedures research" came only when the systems man reported directly to the chief executive and addressed vital structural matters,
9For a discussion of masculinity,work, and technology, see Ruth Oldenzeil, Making TechMasculine:Men, Women,and Modern Machinesin America, 1870-1945 (Amsterdam, nology 1999), and many of the papers in Ava Baron, ed., WorkEngendered:Towardsa New History of American Labor (Ithaca, N.Y., 1991).

Inventing Information Systems / 23 such as "the relationshipbetween jobs and organizational units"and structuralbarriersto overallprofitability. Neuschel firmlysubjugated his analysis of specific tools and "workaids," such as surveys, flow charts,and tabulatingmachines,to this higher end. He wanted to turn a collection of specializedtechniques into a much broaderkind of exwas, afterall, in the businessof plicitlymanagerial expertise.McKinsey An open-ended proceduresprogramcarried managementconsulting. out directlyfor the chief executivein orderto improvecorporatecoordinationwould fit muchbetter with McKinsey's carefullycultivatedimage thanwould a less exaltedfocus on technicalefficiency.'0 Neuschel'sideas spread among the more ambitiousof the corporate systemsmen as well as the rapidlyexpanding body of management consultants. The systemsmen loved to paintthemselvesas guardians of the overallcorporateinterest in contrastto the selfish parochialism of departments.SPApresident F. WaltonWanner(of StandardOil, New Jersey)remarkedin his 1958 keynote address:"Systemsunderliesand is a part of every managementaction, directlyor directly,consciously or unconsciously." Unfortunately, corporatemanagementoften failed to appreciatethis. When systems men complainedof not being taken seriously, they expressedthis not just as an insultto theirprofessionbut as evidence that a managerhad failedto understand or her own role his in the new orderof things."[M]anagement improvement... by implewas seen as a menting and installingbetter systems and procedures" that "duty" executivescould delegatebut could not evade. The systems men frequentlyaddressedeach other on the need to "sell"themselves and their techniques to managementat every opportunity. They tried to establishthemselves as an importantpart of managementby redefiningwhat counted as relevantmanagerial expertise." During the 1950s, the SPAboomed as thousandsof firmsinitiated or expandedtheir effortsin this area.By the end of the decade, the systems men had found a niche in the institutional structureof the corporation.But this tenable gain grantedthem neitherthe authority the nor to which manyaspired.When definingthe "natural" duties of security their profession, its members followed Neuschel and emphasized
'0On the importance of reportingdirectly to the chief executive, see RichardF. Neuschel, Streamlining Business Procedures (New York, 1950), 53. For his faint praise of the office manager,see Ibid., 49-50. "1Thekeynote speech is recorded in F. Walton Wanner, "Design for Controlled Professional Development," in Gibbs Myers, ed., Ideasfor Management:Papers and Case Histories Presented at the Tenth International Systems Meeting (Detroit, 1958), 17-19. The latter quote is from Milton Reitzfeld, "Marketingthe Systems Function," Systems & Procedures Journal 16 (Nov.-Dec. 1965): 30-5.

Thomas Haigh / 24

PROFILE OF A :SYSTEMS MAN


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Figure 1. Profileof a SystemsMan, a 1959 surveyby the Systems and ProceduresAssociation of its members in 1,100 companies, found that their daily work remained within the bounds of activities first espoused by office management reformers early in the century. Image courtesy of the Charles Babbage Institute, Universityof Minnesota, Minneapolis.

glamorous activities, such as operations research and what they called the "management audit": a staff probe of how a department controls, plans, sets policies, and utilizes its personnel and management capabilities. Their core activities, however, remained more mundane. Profile of a Systems Man, a 1959 survey by the SPA of its members in 1,100 companies, found that their daily work remained within the bounds of ac-

Inventing Information Systems / 25 tivitiesfirstespoused by office managementreformersearlyin the century.Whilearound80 percentof these systemsgroupswere entrustedby theirfirmswithprocedures formscontrol,andclerical worksimmanuals, claimedto practiceoperations research plification, a smallproportion only or to performmanagement audits.Less thanone-thirdsupervised or five more people. Most systemsmen were college educated (primarily acandbusinessdegrees)andin theirthirtiesor forties.The bulkof counting them workedfor manufacturing firmsin the Northeastor Midwest,alabouta quarter worked financial professional for or services firms.12 though The systems men's most fundamentalweaknesswas the fuzziness of all-roundexpertise in managementmethods as a claim to professional expertise. Indeed, they complained that systems departments were liable to be the first cut when a companyfell on hard times. As the systemsmen frequentlylamented,it was very hardto turn recognition as an expert on forms into a mandate to reorganizeprocesses across departmentalboundaries.A 1959 warning given by a leading Britishpractitioner capturedtheir dilemma: [H]e claimsto be an expertin a subjectwhichmostotherbusiness Whatdoes the systemmanknow peopleclaimto be equallyexpert. that the office manager,or indeed, any other managerdoes not know?... Thereare already growingup in the office fielda number of othertechniqueswhichdo not sufferfromthese disadvanwho tages.Thereis the computer programmer haslearneda secret researchmanwho, as a mathelanguage.There is the operations mathematical matician, employsunassailable techniques.... Each has his esoterictechniquesto sell. But whathas the systemsman whichis not the everyday of currency everyoneelse in business?13 The Systems Men and the Computer As this warningsuggests,the computerloomed above the systems men of the late 1950s, offeringwhat seemed an unparalleled opportu2On the management audit, see Victor Lazzaro, "The Management Audit," Systems & Procedures 11 (May 1960): 2-6; and A. Richard De Luca, "Functions of a Systems & Procedures Department," Systems & Procedures 12 (March-April 1961): 2-7. The SPA'ssurvey is discussed in A. RichardDe Luca, "Placingthe Systems and Procedures Function in the Organization,"Systems and ProceduresMagazine 12 (May-June 1961): 14-23. Figures from earlier surveys are reprinted in Association for Systems Management, Profile of a Systems Man (Cleveland, 1970). 13 Geoffrey J. Mills, "An Appraisalof British and European Business Systems"in Colver Gordon, ed., Ideas For Management:Papers Presentedat the Eleventh International Systems Meeting (Cleveland, 1959), 25-36.

Thomas Haigh / 26 nity to overcome their managerialmarginality.In that same 1958 speech in which he placed systemsworkat the heartof managementitself, Wannerhad also arguedthat the computer"opensdoors heretofore not open to systems activities." that top manageAcknowledging ment had previouslybeen at best "half-hearted" its attention to in paper-handling techniques,he optimistically suggestedthat the appeal of the computerwould overcomethis apathy. The new electronictools allowed the systems man to cross departmentallines at will, "merging and consolidating workon a trulyfunctionalbasis,"eliminatingunnecessary departments, and "re-engineeringand replanning the entire
system."14

Unfortunatelyfor Wannerand his colleagues, the jurisdictionof corporate systems men over the computer was unclear during the 1950s. After IBM coined the term "electronicdataprocessing"(EDP) to describe the function of its administratively oriented computers, "dataprocessing"as an umbrelladepunch-cardsupervisorsadopted of and machines. scription the workof computer, punch-card, paper-tape IBM stood to gain if computerswere seen as a naturalextensionof the existingpunch-cardoperationsthat still accounted for the bulk of its revenues, and so did the punch-cardmanagers.Existinginvestments in electromechanicalpunch-card equipment provided technological and human continuitybetween computersand mechanicaltabulating machines-continuing a process of evolutionthat was alreadydecades old. As a result, when the computer arrived,it was often the punchcard staff who became its stewards.To mark this transition,in 1962 the punch-card machinesupervisors' association changedits nameto the Data ProcessingManagementAssociation(the DPMA). Accordingto its executive director, Calvin Elliot, the association "was no longer Elliot claimedthat [a] new of merelyan organization TabSupervisors." data processor [is] being created, with a combinationof professional line and staff responsibilitiesrequiringstrong technical know-howas This threatenedto usurp the territoryof well as managerialabilities." the systemsmen themselves.15
Wanner,"Design for Controlled ProfessionalDevelopment," 1958. 15 For a verbatim transcriptof the meeting at which the name was changed, see National Machine Accountants Association Board of Directors Minutes, 19 June 1962, 35-49, in Data Processing Management Association Records (CBI 88), Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. The quote comes from an article published shortly after the shift: R. Calvin Elliott, "DPMA: Its Function & Future," Datamation (June 1963): 35-6. On the use of tabulating machines in insurance companies, see Joanne Yates, "Co-evolution of Information-processingTechnology and Use: Interaction Between the Life Insurance and TabulatingIndustries,"Business History Review 67 (Spring 1993). On the continuity between
14

Inventing Information Systems / 27

involvementin data processingthreatened Despite its attractions, two key goals of the systems men. The first, shaped by the failure of the office managersto overcometheir role as head clerks,was to avoid at all costs becoming direct supervisorsof clerical production.They wanted to define new systems as consultingstaff experts, not oversee their dailyoperationas ploddingoffice supervisors. The second was to remainmanagementexpertsratherthan techniciansspecializedin one or two tools. "Isthe analystturninginto an artisanmakingapplications of punched card and magnetic tape equipment?"asked one of their kind. An analystfor Air Canadalamented that "a misled faith in the computer 'cure all' was sometimes abetted by mesmerized systems and procedurespersonnelwho were so engrossedin workingout the complexitiesof machine proceduresthat they unconsciouslybecame and convinced that machine handling completely computer-oriented
was the 'only way.'"16

Systems men frequently tried to paint EDP as a mere technical specialty within their broader domain, alongside better established specialties, such as records management,form design, or work measurement. They made similarclaims regardingoperationsresearch,a widely publicized but relativelyrare staff activitythat enlisted natural scientists to investigateways to apply their mathematicaltechniques to problems of corporate administration.Many operations research pioneers insisted that their scientific approachwas the first rigorous and logical assault on the most crucial problems of business, denigratingthe corporatesystems men and relyingon the culturalauthority of science to trump their own lack of practical business experience. This was anotherthreat to the claims of the systems men to be the only groupof generalistexpertsin efficient managementmethods. Systemsmen therefore painted the specific tools developed by operations researchers(such as queuing theory,decision theory,and linear as programming) a useful but narrowspecializationwithin the overall systems department.
tabulating machines and computers, see Martin Campbell-Kelly and William Aspray, Computer: A History of the InformationMachine (New York,1996): 131-5; James Cortada,Before the Computer:IBM, Burroughs and RemingtonRand and the Industry They Created, 18651956 (Princeton, 1993). "6Thefirstis George W. Brook,"ANew Look,"Systems& Procedures11 (Feb. 1960): 7-15; the second, William Heshka, "This Point Cannot Be Overemphasized,"Systems and Procedures Journal 17 (July-Aug. 1966): 48-9. The "back to basics" plea can be found in A. J. Leighton, "The Real Job of Systems and Procedures," Systems and ProceduresJournal 13 (Jan.-Feb. 1962); Ray Marien, "Forms Control: A Reappraisal,"Systems and Procedures Journal 14 (May-June 1963): 44-5.

ThomasHaigh / 28
The challenge to the leaders of the SPA was to assert control over the computer without seeing its membership trade their managerial dreams for careers as programmers. Those working intimately with computers found themselves immersed in a new world, which demanded the acquisition of specialized, craft-based technical skills. Even the most powerful computers of the 1950s held only a tiny amount of information in their high-speed internal memory (the equivalent of today's RAM chips). This memory had room for a simple program, some totals and counts, and the single record currently being processed. Early computers worked like machines on an assembly line-repeating the same operations as records were passed through them one at a time. Each "application,"such as payroll, was split into a number (perhaps ten or twenty) of "runs." A typical run took the intermediateresults tape of a previous operation and cycled through it, performing a simple task, such as the deduction of union dues from the already calculated weekly pay packet. Achieving these tasks with any level of efficiency required the same concern with physical flow as the establishment of an efficient manufacturing plant. Programmers interacted directly with the physical hardware of the computer: loading numbers into specific memory locations, specifying exactly what operations to perform, and grappling with the enormously complex steps required to read information reliably from tape drives and send it to printers. Each program was so laboriously tailored to its task that modifying its function even slightly could prove a major undertaking. A fundamental redesign might be needed in order to take advantage of a memory upgrade or the installation of additional tape units.17 During the late 1950s, an increasingly wide cultural gulf separated computer programmers and analysts from their former comrades in accounting, office management, and systems and procedures. Scarcity of experienced computer staff raised their pay scale and made it easier for them to move between rather than within companies, ensuring that data-processing staff bonded more closely with each other than with their nontechnical colleagues. Many systems men had a particularly low opinion of the new breed of computer specialists without experience in broader administrative work. One such analyst slammed the specialists, who had "buffaloed management [but whose] bubble was now bursting." While such technicians had "perhaps, a real talent for working with numbers," they could not compare to the true systems
17 For an excellent grounding in the complexities of early computer use, see Daniel D. McCracken, Harold Weiss, and Tsai-Hwa Lee, Programming Business Computers (New York,1959).

Inventing Information Systems / 29 man who remained"aprofessionaladvocateof the managementtechniques."Of course, he also had little time for "formersystems men [who]havejoined the ranksof EDP or computertechniciansand abandoned the systems profession."Neuschel himself was quoted by Fortune in 1957 as sayingthat electronicequipmentwas rarelyneeded and that he had "notyet recommendedEDP to a single client."The proliferation of computers intensified the dilemma:whether to embrace dataprocessingor stickwith the broader,yet problematic,mandateof the administrative systems expert.The computerhad the attentionof a distinctglamour, a degree of tangibility seand and top management, that more traditionalsystems could never match. On the other curity hand, to cast one'slot with the dataprocessorswas to give up the aspirationof becominga true managementspecialist.18 Informationand Management The systemsmen dealt with this quandary redefiningthe comby tool for the creationof systemsto deliver inforputer as a managerial mationto executivesratherthan as a technicaldevice for the processing of data. They would become specialistsin informationsystems-a concept invented during the 1950s and popularizedduring the early 1960s.Withina decade, they had succeeded in assertingtheir own control over corporatecomputingand in gainingwide (if still theoretical) acceptance of the computer as a tool for managementimprovement ratherthan clericalautomation. Discussionof information so ubiquiis tous today that it is hard to recognize the novelty and power the idea held during the 1950s, or to read historicaluses of the term without interpretingthem in the light of moder definitions.Philip Agre has written:"Information not a naturalcategorywhose historywe can exis is Instead,information an object of certainprofessionalidetrapolate. most particularly and ologies, librarianship computing,and cannot be understoodexcept throughthe practiceswithinwhich it is constructed by the membersof those professionsin their work."'9 To understandthe appeal of informationto the systems men and the ways in which they shaped subsequentunderstanding the conof we must firstexplorewhat informationmeant within managerial cept,
18The first quotes are from John T. Leslie, "Are Systems Men Industry'sDisplaced Persons?" Systems and ProceduresJournal 14 (Nov.-Dec. 1963): 30-3. Neuschel was quoted in Perrin Stryker,"WhatManagement Doesn't Know Can Hurt,"Fortune 56 (Nov. 1957). 19Philip E. Agre, "InstitutionalCircuitry:Thinking About the Forms and Uses of Information,"InformationTechnologyand Libraries 14 (Dec. 1995): 225-30.

ThomasHaigh / 30
culture during the 1950s. Contemporary commentators were well aware that there was little discussion of information in the abstract. Dun's Review pointed out to the world of industrial management in 1958: "[O]nly in the past dozen years has the concept of informationas distinct from the papers, forms, and reports that convey it-really penetrated management's consciousness. That it has done so is largely due to recent breakthroughs in cybernetics, information theory, operations research, and the electronic computer...." Others concurred as to the novelty of "information" and its intimate association with the computer. One management professor claimed: "As late as 1946 there were in the combined professional, technical and scientific press of the United States only seven articles on the subject of information."20 Of course, neither the word "information"nor most of the things to which it was applied were new. As one might expect, information was originally the event that took place when a person was informed of something. According to linguist Geoffrey Nunberg, during the late nineteenth century, use of the word shifted to refer primarily to structured, objective, and systematically disseminated forms of communication, such as newspapers and reference works-while retaining an earlier association with personal improvement. In the early twentieth century, the term "information" was frequently associated with communication (especially in the public relations sense), with intelligence (in the military sense), and with the acquisition of knowledge. It continued to imply that a human recipient was being informed (just as the word "education" today implies that a person is being educated). Think, for example, of an informant, a well-informed reader, a memo stamped "For Your Information," or a public information bureau. Information was a quality possessed by something that informed, or a process by which one became informed, but not a commodity in its own right.21
Office-Room For Improvement,"Dun's 20The first quote is from Anonymous, "Today's Review and Modern Industry 72 (Sept. 1958). Similarfigureson the sudden emergence of informationare presented in Carlos A. Cuadra,ed., Annual Review of Information Science and Technology 1 (New York, 1966), 3. The management professor is Alex W. Rathe, "Management's Need for Information,"in American Management Association, ed., Control Through Information:A Report on ManagementInformation Systems (New York,1963), 1-4. 21 The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., supports this claim of a distinct new postwar usage of informationto denote something "withoutthe implication of, reference to a person informed ... and which is capable of being stored in, transferredby, and communicated to inanimate things." For a linguisticallyoriented discussion of this issue, see Geoffrey Nunberg, "Farewellto the InformationAge,"in The Futureof the Book, ed. Geoffrey Nunberg (Berkeley, 1997), 103-38. The use of ahistoricalclaims to universalizeinformationis discussed in Geofin frey Bowker,"InformationMythology:The WorldOf/As Information," Lisa Bud-Frierman, ed., Information Acumen: The Understanding and Use of Knowledge in Moder Business

Inventing Information Systems / 31 Information a theory," scigained a new cachet from "information entific approachcodified by communicationsengineer Claude Shanin non in 1948 (basedon a usage of information communications engineering and statistics that preceded his achievement by several seminalworkprovideda generalized,quantitative decades). Shannon's of treatmentof the transmission symbolsbetween a sender and a recipthe ideas of informationcontent (measuredin bits), ient, introducing bandwidth,and redundancy. Contemporaries quibbledthat this mechanisticconception of informationhad little to do with the meaningor value of the symbolsbeing transmitted.However,this technicalsense of "information" linked to earlierusage throughShannon's is focus on communication-the recipientis informedwhen he or she receivesthe message. Shannon'sinformationtheory resonated far beyond its technical niche. Duringthe late 1950s, "information" seemed scientific,modern, and fashionably theoretical.In 1953, duringwhatwas probablythe first extended discussionof informationas an abstractquantityto reach a largeexecutiveaudience,Fortunemagazinelaudedit as a great and almost unknownscientifictheory,whose impact on society was likely to exceed that of nuclearphysics.The theorywas appliedto the conceptualizationof DNA as a genetic "code,"to psychology,and to the new disciplineof cognitivescience. In addition,the 1950s saw a flurryof interest in the problemsof"scientificinformation." Scientificand technical workwas being publishedin unprecedentedquantities,spurring interest in technologies and systems to classify,abstract,distribute,and index it. Under the bannerfirstof "documentation" then of "inforand mationscience,"a growingband of enthusiastsrejectedthe limitations and concerns of existinglibraryschools. Alarmists warnedthat an "informationexplosion"threatenedWestern scientific leadershipduring the cold war because America'slack of centralizedindexing and abstractingleft scientistsand engineers doomed to repeat previouspublished work.As Fortunecautionedin 1960, "Russia's rapidprogressin and other areas may be traceable jet aircraft, rockets, electronics, in substantial But part to its effective retrievalof information." despite
(New York,1994). All attempts to provide coherent definitions of informationthat unify different kinds of recent usage have failed. For examinationsof this divergence, see H. Wellisch, "From Information Science to Informatics:A Terminological Investigation,"Journal of Librarianship 4 (1972): 157-87; and N. J. Belkin and S. E. Robertson, "InformationScience and the Phenomenon of Information," Journal of the ASIS 27 (1976): 197-210. ' Claude E. Shannon, "A MathematicalTheory of Communication,"Bell System Technical Journal 27 (July 1948): 623-56.

ThomasHaigh / 32 scientiststo colonize corporatemanthe best effortsof the information an importanttopic that cannot be fully consideredhere, inagement, formationwas to be more closely and generallyassociatedwith computersthanwith librarians.23 The issues addressedby informationtheory were fundamentalto the design of computersthat could store dataand move it between different internalcomponentsfor processing.This relationbetween comtheme of EdwardBerkeley's was puter and information the organizing Giant Brains,or MachinesThatThink-the firstto seminal1949 book, introduceelectroniccomputersand their potentialuse in businessto a generalaudience. Berkley,a formerinsuranceexecutive,gave earlyexas pressionto the idea of information a ubiquitouspresence in the naturaland socialworlds.He made the computerless threateningby presenting it as the latest and most powerful in a series of pieces of that included every"physicalequipment for handling information" from nerve cells to writingto human gestures. Berkeley'sideas thing seem to have spread only very slowly in business circles. Information a and the computerwere also intimatelyassociatedwith "cybernetics," automaticcontrol developed by fashionabletheory of feedback and mathematicianNorbert Wiener. Cyberneticsbrought an intellectual which in with mechanization, fascination veneer to Americanbusiness's the 1950s was generallypresented to managementas an end in itself. Meanwhile, consultant John Diebold popularizedthe newly coined in term "automation" his 1952 book of the same name, invokingthe idea of fullyautomatedfactoriesgivingrise to a new socialorder.24
2Francis Bello, "The Information Theory," Fortune 48 (Dec. 1953): 136-41, 149-50, 152, 154, 156, 158. This first article focused on the technical and electronic communications aspects of the theory. The quotation is from a follow-up article in which the same author updated his audience on the booming field of scientific informationretrievalsystems, in Francis Bello, "How to Cope with Information,"Fortune 62 (Sept. 1960): 162-7, 180-2, 187-9, 192. For a contemporary account of early professionalizationactivity in information science, see Robert S. Taylor,"ProfessionalAspects of InformationScience and Technology,"in Carlos A. Cuadra,ed., Annual Review of InformationScience and Technology,Vol. 1 (New York,1966), 15-40. Few professionalhistorianshave investigated informationscience, but see William Aspray,"Commandand Control, Documentation, and LibraryScience: The Originsof Information Science at the University of Pittsburgh,"IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 21 (Oct.-Dec. 1999) for discussion of an important attempt to make information science relevant to corporate management. Attention within the informationscience community has reHiscently turned to its own history:see Trudi Bellardo Hahn and Michael Buckland, eds., torical Studies in InformationScience (Medford, N.J., 1998); Trudi Bellardo Hahn, Robert V. Williams, Mary Ellen Bowden, eds., Proceedingsof the Conferenceon the History and Heritage of Science InformationSystems (Medford, N.J., 1999). 24 Edmund C. Berkeley, Giant Brains, or Machines That Think (New York,1949), 10-17. Industrial automation receives its classic historical treatment in David F. Noble, Forces of Production:A Social History of Industrial Automation (New York,1984). For Diebold's origsee inal usage of "automation," John Diebold, Automation:The Advent of the Automatic Fac-

Inventing Information Systems / 33 The inherent efficiency of automationwas a given. Widespread both the prevacoveragein the businessandpopularpress exaggerated lence and complexityof automatedproductionlines. When enthusiasts of the 1950s promised that electronics would revolutionizesociety, they spoke of automation,not of information. AlthoughPeter Drucker discussedautomationin his seminal 1954 book, The Practice explicitly he of Management, also brieflytouched on informationas "the tool of the manager," his definingit as a managersabilityto communicate ideas to other people throughthe use of words and numbers.At this point, neither the associationof information with the computernor the idea of the information had gainedgeneralmanagerial system recognition.5 Office automation consultantHowardS. Levinwas amongthe first to turn informationinto a claim to organizational power. In 1956 he argued, in Office Workand Automation,that "to view office work as equivalent to business informationhandling requires [that] we consider ... the executivewho analyzesbudget requests"as well as clerks themselves. Levin made many claims for information: was the basis it of all decision making;investment in informationwas vital to future information with office work;inprosperity; handlingwas synonymous formationcosts would be sharplyreducedby the computer.He argued for businessto supporta new breed of "information or specialists" "informationengineers"and a "vicepresident-information"to improve its effectiveness.Information a single word that could mean many was things: it encompassed clerical work and strategic decision making when both were abstractedas different kinds of informationprocessing. Levin achievedthis by eliding differencesbetween the new, technical sense of informationas a qualityprocessed by a clerk or a computer and the older sense of informationas the knowledge obtained from varioussources that allows managementto make informeddecisions.This association information of with the computer, specifically and with the use of the computerin business,preceded more generaltheories of the "information revolution" "information or society."Only in the late 1950s did Druckercoin the phrase"knowledge worker" deto scribe the increasingimportanceof technicaland managerial workers.
tory (New York,1952). Automation enjoyed very wide coverage in the business press of the 1950s and early 1960s; see John Diebold, "Automation-The New Technology,"Harvard Business Review 31 (Nov.-Dec. 1953): 63-71; Malcolm H. Gibson, "AutomationShould Be YourWhole Philosophy,"Office 51 (Jan. 1960): 134, 136; George J. Kelley,"We'reEasing into Automation,"The Controller 25 (Feb. 1957): 66-9. Only during the mid-1960s did a more nuanced conception gain ground, even in elite business discourse; see Charles E. Silberman, The Myths of Automation (New York,1966). Peter F. Drucker, The Practice of Management(New York,1954), 346. 25

ThomasHaigh / 34 The extension of this idea by others to the more general and more society"did not take place until technologicallyfocused "information much later.26 Levinwas also one of the veryfirst,at least in a businesscontext,to draw a distinctionbetween informationand data. During the 1950s, in the two were usuallyused interchangeably discussionsof management or computing-a pattern Levin followed in most of his book. At one point, however,he suggestedthat databe viewed as the rawfactual in materialstored in computersor copied by clerks.Information, contrast,was useful knowledge-data that had been manipulatedso as to informthe recipient about the state of business. From the late 1950s, claimed by groupswishing to was the term "information" increasingly oriented and was invokedin oppositionto the be seen as managerially humdrummassesof dataprocessedby machine-minded computerand punch-cardtechnicians.The distinctionis still widely made today,alhas of though subsequentrhetoricaldevaluation information led to the additionof knowledge,and even wisdom,to this hierarchy.27 In 1958, two Universityof Chicago Business School professors, HaroldJ. Leavittand ThomasL. Whisler,put together computers,information,automation,and managementand redesignatedthe comtechnology."Their Harvard Business Review puter as "information in the 1980s,"depicted a future in which this article, "Management combinationof computerhardware, operationsresearchmethods, and simulationprogramshad transformedthe corporation.The computer remaineda tool of automation,but it had spreadits reach beyond the manual labor of clerks to transformthe work of managementitself. Middle managershad largelydisappearedafter computersautomated duties and removedtheir autonomy.Leavittand their decision-making Whisler likened the new organizational shape to a football balanced or on a pyramid.Executive rankshad been swelled by "researchers, who people like researchers," had strongertechnicalskillsand demonconcern with solving difficultproblems."Managestrated a "rational
26 Howard S. Levin, Office Work and Automation (New York, 1956). For an early use of the term "knowledgeworker,"see Peter Drucker,"The Next Decade In Management,"Dun's Review and Modern Industry 74 (Dec. 1959): 52-61. Drucker continues to prefer "knowledge revolution"to the more technical "informationrevolution."For a general discussion of information-societytheorists, including the origin and spread of different versions, see Frank Webster, Theoriesof the Information Society (New York,1995). 27 Levin, Office Work,8. Levin'sdistinction is taken up to criticize data-processingtechnicians in Milton D. Stone, "Data Processing and the Management InformationSystem: A Realistic Evaluationof Data Processing'sRole,"in American Management Association, ed., The Modern Business Enterprise in Data Processing Today:A Progress Report-New Concepts, Techniquesand Applications (New York,1960).

Inventing Information Systems / 35 ment would spend most of its time tweakingdecision-making systems, rather than makingindividualdecisions. In "staffroles, close to the of top"were to be foundthe "programmers" managementscience, free to performtheir own researchand decide what and how to program. Decentralization and delegation, two crucial developments of the 1950s, had merely been unfortunatenecessities that were fortunately no longernecessary.28 The ideas of Leavittand Whislerstimulateda greatdeal of activity within managementresearch, and some of their specific predictions were challenged-especially their idea that computertechnologydictated managerialcentralization.In addition,the phrase "information did technology" not enter general usage until the 1980s in the United States.But the Chicagoprofessors' vision of huge, computerizedinformation, control, and decision-making systems as the backbone of future managementwas widely noted among managementtheorists of the era. HerbertSimon,alreadya majorfigurein administrative theory, for providedan intellectualframework this vision throughhis various itself attempts to show that both the computer and the organization were decision-making information-processing and machinesexercising potentially superhumanrationality.Simon suggested that computers would be capable in principle of automatingany managerialdecision by 1970.29 The appeal of this science-fiction future to operations research and management science researchers is quite obvious. But it also stirreda flurryof interestamongcorporatesystemsmen, for whom the associationof the computerwith informationand executive management provideda welcome alternative the identification computers to of as data processors.For Leavitt and Whisler,previouslydifferentiated
8 Harold J. Leavitt and Thomas L. Whisler, "Managementin the 1980s," Harvard Business Review 36 (Nov.-Dec. 1958): 41-8. Later articles assert that Leavitt and Whisler coined the term "information technology,"although Bello, in "How to Cope with Information,"mentions that the term was used in 1957 to derive the name of a maker of scientific information retrievalequipment called "Infotek."Some of their ideas were anticipated by T. F. Brasshaw, "AutomaticData Processing Methods," in Robert N. Anthony, Automatic Data Processing Conference (Boston, 1955). The author,a partner of the consulting firm Cresap, McCormick and Paget, suggested that effective use of EDP would "force"a shift to a new kind of management based on more deliberate design of control systems and organizationalstructure. 29Simon addressed this specific question in Herbert A. Simon, "The Corporation:Will It Be Managed By Machines?"in Melvin Anshen and George Leland Bach, eds., Management and Corporations,1985 (New York,1960), 17-55. The claim of centralizationwas disputed in John F Burlingame, "InformationTechnology and Decentralization,"Harvard Business Review 39 (Nov.-Dec. 1961): 121-6. For a reevaluation of the significance of the Leavitt and Whisler article, see Lynda M. Applegate, James I. Cash Jr.,and D. Quinn Mills, "Information Harvard Business Review 66 (Nov.-Dec. 1988). Technology and Tomorrow'sManager,"

ThomasHaigh / 36 items, such as accounts,marketforecasts,and inventoryrecords,were and now groupedunder a single heading (information) demarcatedas techof the professionalresponsibility a single group (the information Leavittand Whislerconcluded their articlewith an appeal nologists). for executivesto searchfor "lostinformation languishing technologists" within the staff ranks.The systems men wasted little unappreciated time in volunteeringthemselves. The New Vision:A TotallyIntegrated Management InformationSystem Instead of borrowing Leavitt and Whisler's term, "information technology," systems men created anotherphrase that fused information more directlyto their existingclaimsto expertisein overallsystems ratherthan narrowtechnologies:the managementinformationsystem (MIS). In 1959, CharlesStein, a senior memberof the consultingfirm United Research, defined this "integratedmanagement information system"as a computerizedtool that would meet all the information needs of all levels of managementin a "timely,accurate and useful on Variations this phrasewere to appearhundreds of times manner." over the course of the next decade. The managementinformationsystem was singularfor a firm:it describedone system that tied together models that all others. More than this, it would include mathematical on would instantlyfeed backinformation the impactof any decisionon decision could be evaluated goals. Every departmental corporate-level instantlyand empiricallyfor its impact on corporateprofits,thus banishing forever the problems of organizationalpolitics. Facts would speakfor themselves.30 Stein'sdefinition, and indeed the phrase "managementinformation system"itself, made its public debut in 1959 at a smallconference, which Dimensions in Office Management," under the title "Changing was sponsored by the American Management Association (AMA). of at Speakers the conferenceincludedrepresentatives computermanuheads of professionalassociations, facturers,academics, consultants, and prominentcorporatesystemsmen. This was the firstpresentation of the results of a workinggroup, called the ContinuingSeminaron ManagementInformationSystems.The groupwas convened by GabCharles Stein Jr.,"Some OrganizationalEffects of Integrated Management Information Systems," in American Management Association, ed., The Changing Dimensions of Office Management(New York,1960), 82-9.
30

Inventing Information Systems / 37 riel N. Stillian, a fellow of the IBM Systems Research Institute and head of the AMA'sAdministrative Services Division. It also included senior representatives McKinsey,and top systems men from of Stein, industrialgiants such as Lockheed and DuPont. These corporateparticipants emphasized the need for such a project to be headed by a boundstrongmanagerwho would be able to cut acrossdepartmental aries and would adopt a systems-oriented,rather than a machineoriented, viewpoint. Conference speakers from Univac, Honeywell, and RCA were keen to promote the potential of their machines as managementtools, predictingthe imminent emergence of a top-level staffmanagerto organize"everylevel and everykind"of information in the companyvia controlof electronicand manualdataprocessing,corporate planning, and operations research activities. The term MIS made its firstappearance duringthatyear,in a U.S. Navyreporton the use of computersto constructa single integratedsystemto manageall Navyresources.31 MIS was in manywaysan extensionof "integrated dataprocessing" advancedsys(IDP), one of the largest-scaleand most technologically tems and procedures activities of the mid-1950s. "Integrated" here that data should be transferred from one office masuggested directly chine to another,on punch cards or paper tape, ratherthan being retyped many times. New kinds of teletype machines and automatic even allowedtransmission ordersdirectlyfrom the head of typewriters office to remote warehouses.This promisedaccuracy, speed, and effithis concept predated widespread use of the comciency. Although puter,its appealwas only strengthenedas computerization proceeded. MIS was IDP writ large, emphasizingbetter decision makingrather than operationalefficiency and applyingtechniques from operations research to transformmere data into managerially relevant information. MIS united this idea of integratedautomaticsystemswith the "reports control,"anotherpopularidea amongthe systemsmen, whereby a systemsgroupwould take controlof all the reportspreparedfor difThe AMA had a long history of promoting the modernization of administrativetech31 niques, first through the prewarwork of its office executives group and later through a series of seminars on the use of electronic equipment. As the use of this equipment became commonplace, the organizationreoriented its efforts toward a broader considerationof the use of computers for management. The conference proceedings themselves are contained in American Management Association, ed., The Changing Dimensions of Office Management. The seminal role of this conference is discussed in Society for Management Information Systems, ResearchReport One: What Is A ManagementInformationSystem? (Chicago, 1972). For the Navy'sembrace of the concept, see John H. Dillon, Data Processingin Navy ManagementInformation Systems (Washington,D.C., 1959).

ThomasHaigh / 38 elimferent levels of management,consolidateredundantinformation, inate reports that were no longer needed, and judge the economic it. meritsof each request for a new reportbefore approving Unlike the similaractivityof forms control, reportscontrolwas rare conceptually in practice,probablybecause it requiredthe systemsmen to challenge the rightsof line managersto controltheir own reports.32 The MIS idea spread rapidlythroughoutthe administrative systems community,encouraged by a spate of subsequent reports and conferences sponsoredby the AmericanManagementAssociation.In 1961, the association publishedthe firstbook-lengthtreatmentof MIS, ManagementInformation Systems and the Computer,authored by a JamesA. Gallagher, recent McKinseyhire and member of the conseminar.Gallagherhad previouslyworked in data-processing tinuing ElectricProductsand in the systemsplanning managementat Sylvania department of Lockheed Aircraft.In MIS, contraryto the ideas of Leavittand Whisleror Herbert Simon, the computerwould not automate managementdecision making,but it would automatethe supply to of information management,and so raisethe statusof systemswork while linking "systemswork and data processing as two parts of the "a samewhole."Accordingto Gallagher, total managementinformation is the entire business automatically not in the foresystem controlling seeable future,but a systemwhich will keep all the firm'smanagement completely informed of all developments is perfectly possible of achievement."As this choice of words shows, MIS was an "information"system because it informedmanagers,not because it was full of technical sense, though the distinctionsoon informationin Shannon's blurredas the idea of MIS spread.33 The same year, the conference programof the SPAwas suddenly awashwith paperson the "totalsystemsconcept."Haslett,for example, claimedthat Shellwas "onthe thresholdof a totallyintegratedmanagement informationsystem."Throughoutthe early 1960s, the systems men used terms such as "managementinformationsystem,""totally systems," integratedmanagementinformationsystem,""management
32The idea of "integrated data processing" originated at U.S. Steel and was publicized through an AMA conference held in Februaryof 1954. See American Management Association, ed., A New Approach to Office Mechanization: Integrated Data Processing through Common Language Machines (New York,1954). J. M. Otterbein, "An Integrated Data Processing Application,"Systems and Procedures 12 (June-July 1961): 19-30, deals with IDP using a variety of automated office machines but no electronic computers. 33 James D. Gallagher,Management Information Systems and the Computer (New York, 1961), 15-17, 23. The genesis of the Continuing Seminar on Management Information Systems is discussed in the introduction and foreword.

Inventing Information Systems / 39 "information systems,""MIS,""total MIS," "total systems concept," integratedsystem," "totally integrateddataprocessingsystem,""totally and "totalsystem"interchangeably ubiquitously. latterwas the and The vaguest and initially the most popular; for the sake of coherence, "MIS" used here to refer to all of them. Exactlywhat made a system is "total" never quite agreedupon. An earlybook devoted to the subwas ject introducedthe total system as a "totallyautomated,fully responinformationsystem embodyingthe collecsive, trulyall-encompassing tion, storage and processing of data and the reportingof significant informationon an as-needed basis."Despite the obviousproblemsinherentin buildingsuch a system,similardefinitionswere widelypropagated throughoutthe 1960s.34 As Roger Christian,who presented the SPAsintroductory conference seminaron the topic, admitted,"Mostdefinitionsseem to carry elements of a job description." power of the phraserested primarThe in its oppositionto the unsatisfactory limited natureof existing and ily It enshrinedthe mandate,long soughtby systemsmen, arrangements. to cross organizational boundaries.Christianused the new idea of informationsystems ("Tobe effective, informationsystems must be designed-engineered if you prefer")to justifyelevationof systemsmen over both accountants("Thereis a distinctculturallag among accounit's tants;fortunately time industrytook controlof informationsystems out of their hands") and data-processingtechnicians ("Armedwith zeal, these people can literally high-speed hardwareand a crusader's the organization with paper,"meaningthat managers"aren'tgetclog at ting information all-they're getting reamsof data").35 "totalsystems"(like "systemsanalyst") was a term borAlthough rowedfromcold-warsystemsengineering,corporatesystemsmen gave the term their own meanings.They looked up to the systemsengineers and operationsresearchersof RAND, but their communitywas largely separatefrom this cold-warelite, and even from industrialengineers working within their own companies. As the total systems concept spread,the exact meaningand degree of its totalitywere earnestlydisThe first quote is from J. W. Haslett, "Towards Totally Integrated Management In34 the formation System at Shell Oil Company,"in American Management Association, ed., Advances in EDP and Information Systems (New York,1961), 135-40. The second is from Alan D. Meacham and Van B. Thompson, eds., TotalSystems (Detroit, 1962). For the SPA conference, see Roger W. Christian, "The Total Systems Concept," in Systems and Procedures Association, ed., Ideasfor Management:14th International Systems Meeting (Cleveland, 1961), 15-20, and other articles in the same volume, including J. W. Haslett, "Functions of the Systems Department,"5-9. "The Total Systems Concept," 1961: 16, 17, 18. 35Christian,

ThomasHaigh / 40 cussed. Most definitionsinsisted that the label appliedto the whole of the firm'soperations,althoughopinionsdifferedas to whether this implied that everythinghad to be computerized.Even the limits of the corporationitself were insufficiently"total"for some, who suggested ("[O]urearlier'totalsystems'thinkingmay have fallen short conceptually of the real meaning of 'total.'.. .") that the system should tie together companieswith their customersand suppliers.To be "trulytotal," a system would have to include everything from the smallest inventoryitem to an overallmodel of the economic sector in which the companyworked.36 One system in particular,SABRE, was aggressivelypromoted as of proof of the applicability real-timeoperationand the "systemsapto corporatecomputing.Developed at huge cost by IBM and proach" AmericanAirlines, SABRE allowed travel agents to use speciallydesigned consoles to interrogatea central computer directlyin order to Even before its compleand view flight availability make reservations. used SABREas a case studyof MIS technologiesin his tion, Gallagher 1961 book, and it has been a textbookexampleof the strategicuse of computersever since. As the first such system used for business purposes, SABRE was widely reported and served as an apparentdemonstrationof the desirabilityof real-time access to business data. Its success was used to justify investmentin unproven,indeed as yet undeveloped, technology.Gallaghernoted: "[F]romthe beginning, they planned a system based on future technologyrequirements.They did not wait for the new technologyto develop. ..." SABREalso provided managementinformationas a byproductof handlingroutine transactions, leadingsome to claimit as a managementinformation system.Of clerks had a more tangible need for instantly(as course, reservation opposed to weekly or monthly) updated status informationthan did senior managers,but most discussionof "on-line,real-time" systemsin
the mid-1960s ignored this fact entirely.37

During the early 1960s, all these ideas fused as they spread from the elites of the AMA group throughthe rankand file of the systems communities.The manifestdestinyof both corpoand data-processing
3 For a recent collection of papers on the use of systems approaches in a variety of social arenas, see AgathaC. Hughes and Thomas P. Hughes, eds., Systems Experts and Computers: The Systems Approach in Management and Engineering, World War II and After (Cambridge, Mass., 2000). The development of "systems engineering" techniques through the seminal SAGE and ATLAS projects is discussed at length in Thomas P. Hughes, Rescuing Prometheus (New York, 1998). The quote is from Felix Kaufman,"Data Systems That Cross Company Boundaries,"Harvard Business Review 44 (Jan.-Feb. 1966): 141-55. 37 Gallagher,ManagementInformation Systems and the Computer, 175.

Inventing Information Systems / 41 rate computing and corporatesystems work became a real-time, online, totallyintegratedmanagementinformationsystem that delivered all relevantinformationto all managersin a timely,complete, and accurate manner.Managerswould make better decisions more rapidly, assisted by complex models and simulationsbuilt into the system. In conjunction,these propositionsformed the manifestofor what Dun's Review and Modern Industry called a "Managerial Revolution." The men were partof a verybroadarrayof fellow travelers systems working towardthis goal. The same period saw a new interest in management with organizational forms. theory and self-consciousexperimentation Fashionabletechniques included business games, budgeting systems, operationsresearch,and formalizedapproachesto strategicplanning. These approachesfitted together well. For example, in order for a computerto soundthe alarmwhen a performance targetwas missedor a budget exceeded, a managerialmechanismfor setting such targets had to be in place. All involved reliance on the computer and a new class of staff experts, supportedby a cast of managerialtechnicians. Like most utopianvisions, this one offered its true believers a better, cleaner world that made perfect internal sense: what James C. Scott has called a "highmodernistideology"of technocraticcontrol.38 Selling MIS and the Third Generation One class of companies stood to benefit most dramatically from this revolution.Computervendorsloved the idea of turningtheir machines from labor-saving office equipmentinto the indispensablecore of modern managementitself. Not only would this give computinga direct and respected job serving the firm'ssenior decision makers;it would also involve the purchase of vast amounts of the newest and most expensivecomputers,terminals,communication equipment,and disk storage units. Because of IBM's strangleholdon traditionaldata processing, smaller players, such as RCA, GE, and Univac, concentrated on designingand promotingequipment suitablefor managerial
38Revolution through total systems, operations research, and computers is expounded in Herbert E. Klein, "Computer in the Board Room," Dun's Review and Moder Industry 64 (Sept. 1964). For a more critical take on the claims of revolution, see Melvin Anshen, "The Manager and the Black Box,"Harvard Business Review 36 (Nov.-Dec. 1960). On high modernist ideology, see James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State:How Certain Schemesto Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven, 1998). For an insightful and detailed intellectual history of strategic planning, an idea closely related to MIS, see Henry Mintzberg, The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning (New York,1994).

ThomasHaigh / 42 applications.These firms promoted their computers as the essential technologyfor the creationof MIS. During the mid-1960s,computermakerscemented their commitment to the new visionof real-time,on-line, managerially oriented systems by promotingtheir latest computersas partof a new, thirdgeneration of computer technology. (The generation concept was widely accepted in computing circles: the first consisted of vacuum tubebased machines;the second, of those built fromtransistors.) These machines were intended to take technologies for operatingcommunications in "realtime,"which had been pioneered in systems like SAGE center. A and SABRE, and integratethem into every data-processing cluster of capabilitiesbuilt into new hardwareand operatingsystems made it much easier for the user to interactwith computers.Video terallowed minalsand the abilityto run severalprogramssimultaneously loads to be balancedbecause the computercould deal with ursystem gent on-line requests while runningroutine batch jobs with its spare capacity.Muchlargerinternalmemories,coupledwith high-speeddisk storage (the precursorto today'shard-diskdrives),made it possible to keep relativelylarge volumes of informationavailablefor immediate The capabilities these machinesseemed of retrieval("on-linestorage"). of almostlimitless.Giventhe increasingly difficulty savwell-publicized comwith million-dollar ing money by replacingcheap clerical labor and puters and expensiveprogrammers analysts,one of the biggest apof MIS to computer salesmen of the early 1960s was that its peals benefits would emerge in the overallperformanceof managementmakingthem impossibleto measure.The authorof an MIS textbook quoted with approvalthe "headof MIS for GeneralElectric"as arguing, "If an MIS can be justifiedon the basis of cost savings,it isn't an
MIS."39

The computer salesman'smost potent weapon was the growing staff within their customerorgaconstituencyof computer-dependent nizations.These people tied their lives to computer technology and generally identified more stronglywith their occupations and skills than with their firms.Systemsmen saw a way of claimingcontrolover the burgeoningfield of corporatecomputingwhile strengtheningtheir claims to general managerial authority. Computerspecialistshoped to shed their reputation as introvertedtechnicians and obtain a more role. Operationsresearchpractiprominent,respected organizational
39The alleged quote from GE is in Robert G. Murdick,Introduction to ManagementIn(Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1977). formation Systemns

Inventing Information Systems / 43 tioners were keen to move beyond specialistservice groups and build their models directlyinto the managementsystemsof the companyitself; by the 1970s, MIS had subsumedpreviouslyseparateoperations research groups in many firms. MIS and the new third-generation computers promised all these groups a kind of class mobilitywithin corporatesociety,and they seized the opportunity enthusiastically.40 The systems men attempted to sell managementinformationto executivesas a tool for the controlof far-flung divisions. corporate-level Without leaving their desks, they could know more about the operations of their unruly divisionalsubordinatesthan those people knew themselves.This vision cast the systems men themselves as the indiswas pensable servantsof corporatecontrol.Their aspiration to become a powerful managerial group ratherthan a lowly service organization. No longerwould they be called in to write reportsthat nobodyread or to "fight fires"and fix pressing, but trivial,problems that operating managerscould not be bothered to fix themselves. Addressingthe deproblemsof the firm'stotal information system meant reorganizing partments, merging redundant operations, and slashing inefficiency and waste whereverthey found it. They offered an implicitbargainto corporateexecutives:"Youput us in charge and we'll deliver to you more power over your firmsthanyou'veever dreamedof."41 This rosyvisionwas inevitablycontrastedwith a dismalview of the present and accompaniedby dire warningsabout the failure to act, ranging from individualbankruptcyto the threat of revived foreign competition to "enslavementas a result of losing an economic war" with the frighteninglyefficient Soviets and their advancedplanning and modeling techniques.Thus, almost every articlewritten or paper deliveredduringthe 1960s on the topic of generalbusinessexperience with computersbegan with a denunciationof the widespreadfailureto realize anticipatedeconomic benefits throughsimple clerical automation. Manyof them cited a landmark1963 McKinseystudy,published in the HarvardBusinessReview,which found that two-thirdsof large companieswere failingto achievesavings.The authorsinsistedthat the reasonsfor this were managerial, technical.Amongthe study'srecnot ommendationswere extensive top-managementinvolvement,the aggressive applicationof computersto managerial,ratherthan clerical,
40 On the intertwiningof operations research and MIS, see Herbet Halbrecht, "Througha Glass Darkly,"Interfaces 2 (Aug. 1972): 117. 41 For an example of the claim that corporate management would know more than divisional managers about their own operations, see Forrest Hunter Kirkpatrick,"Partnersfor Tomorrow-Manager and Machine,"Business Automation 14 (Oct. 1967): 36-9, 54.

ThomasHaigh / 44 matters, and the imposition of proper managerialdiscipline on the were repeatedandevenitself.These findings operation data-processing into a kind of folk wisdom, which held that tually were transformed of real payoffswould only emerge from computerization reportingand lines.42 other systemsthat crosseddivisional Other authorsused similarcondemnationof the status quo to further their own professionalagendas. They seldom blamed machines difficulties.Instead,they invokedthe idea themselves,or programming which was unfortunately of an inherent "truepotentialof computers," being squanderedthrough mismanagementof one kind or another. This idea became such a cliche that it led to publicationof a whole genre of articles,all opening with a brief allusionto "the well-known failure of computingto fulfill its potential"before moving rapidlyto justifya particularset of remedialmeasures.All the authorssounding this theme agreed that the situationwas a dismal one, but each had a different cure to offer. Depending on their point of view, they might advocatebetter communication,more attentionto industrialpsycholor programming, improvedtraining ogy,packagedsoftware,structured own could usuallybe tracedto a writer's for analysts.Each prescription area of professionalexpertise.However,by presentingtheir ideas as a set of reformsthatwere essentialfor unleashingthe value locked inside an expensiveand uncooperative computer,these differentexpertstried to turntheir own attemptsto ascendto corporatepowerinto mattersof urgentnecessity. Like the traditional systems and procedures departments and the punch-carddepartments, computerdepartmentsof the 1960swere of usuallyunderthe authority the controlleror anotherfinancialexecuto tive. While convertsto the computersawits potentialfor application tasks within and across various operating divisions,they complained that their accountantsuperiorswere conservative,distractedby other matters, and possessive of the new machine and the prestige it conferred. Of course, others could deploy the same evidence and rhetoric
42The first quote is from the conclusion to MarshallK. Evans and Lou R. Hague, "Master Plan for Information Systems,"Harvard Business Review 40 (Jan.-Feb. 1962): 103. During the 1950s and early 1960s the Soviets, like the Japanese in the 1980s, functioned in managerial literature both as proof of the efficacy of whatever reform the author advocated and as a threat to justify the urgency of its implementation. See, for example, Robert B. Forest, "The Operations Research Society of America:An Interview with ORSA'sPresident,"Datamation 9 (Oct. 1963): 32-9. The 1963 surveywas distributedwidely to an executive audience as John T. Garrity,"TopManagement and Computer Profits,"Harvard Business Review 4 (July-Aug. 1963): 6-8, 10, 12, 172, 174; John T. Garrityand John P. McNerey, "EDP: How to Ride the Tiger,"Financial Executive 31 (Sept. 1963): 19-26.

Inventing Information Systems / 45 of failureto drawthe oppositeconclusion.L. C. Guest, GTE'scontroller, defined failurein much the same way,but attributedit to a lack of seekdisciplineand financialcontrolsby a "newclass of management" ing total control over data processing.Soon, when the controllerreasserted his rightfulauthority,"the word 'intangible'would be stricken from the vocabularyof all data-processing and systems groups,"and the computer's true potentialwould appear.43 The InformationPyramid:A Challenge to the Controller as By stakinga claim to information a generaland flexiblemethod of corporation-wide MIS made a direct challenge to the concontrol, troller and his corporateaccountingstaff, whose ascent to corporate power was built on their abilityto turn operatingfiguresinto financial reportingand businesscontroldata.This attackon accountingwas propelled largelyby the desire of the systemsmen to "emancipate" newly combined systems and computer operations from the control of financialmanagers.Manypresentationsat systems and data-processing conferences featured organizational charts,with which the converted to each otherthe gospel regarding their departments' preached rightto to the corporatepresident or chairmanratherthan to report directly the controller.Duringthe 1950s, this was a suggestionthatwas offered tentatively,and as a topic for debate, but it soon became an articleof faithamongthe systemsmen-if not amongexecutives.44 As Alfred Chandlerand contemporary theoristswere then elucia multidivisional could only hope to performbetter thanits firm dating, more specializedcompetitorsby restingon its abilityto coordinateoperations and allocate resources more efficientlythan classicalmarket mechanismsallowed. Enthusiastspromised to use MIS to give managers of the biggest and most sprawlingconglomeratean overviewof the firm. Savvyconsultantswere carefulto make their pitch seem less was alreadythe lifeblood threateningby pointingout that information of business and thus that every firm,by definition,alreadyhad a managementinformation system.The problem,they said,was that the current ad hoc one was no good. For example,CharlesW. Neuendorf (a
43L. C. Guest, "ATemperate View of Data Processing Management and Management Information Systems,"in American Management Association, ed., Advances in EDP and Information Systems (New York,1961), 7-13. On "totalsystems"as a mandate for separationfrom the controller,see George J. Bararband Earl B. Hutchins, "ElectronicComputers and ManCaliforniaManagementReview 6 (Fall 1963): 33-42. agement Organization," 44 RichardW Pomeroy,"The? Box,"Systems& Procedures Journal 14 (Nov.-Dec. 1963):29.

Thomas Haigh / 46

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consultant, former Air Force colonel with responsibility for management information systems, and chair of the Burroughs Systems Advisory Board) argued that "the total management information system" was merely "a tool used with facility by our forefathers during the era of small businesses, but pushed aside and all but forgotten with the advent of big business." The idea that MIS could make any global business as easily manageable as a family store had particular appeal during the 1960s, when firms such as Litton Industries and Textron were relying on the allegedly universal merits of good management and superior systems to justify expansion into wholly unrelated areas of business.45
45Chandler discusses the changing locus of decision-makingpower and the importance of staff experts, in Alfred D. ChandlerJr.,"Recent Developments in American Business Administration and their Conceptualization,"Business History Review 35 (Spring 1961): 1-27. The quote is from Charles W Neuendorf, "The Total Management Information System," Total Systems Letter 1 (March 1965): 1-8. For examples of the "MIS makes a big business work like a small business"refrain, see Herbert E. Martenson,"New Techniques Permit Old Solu-

Inventing Information Systems / 47 Systems men seeking autonomyfrom the controllerthus tried to finanturn the tables on accountantsby arguingthat it was traditional rather than computerizedmanagement,that was hopecial control, lessly technical, out of touch with the real world, and fundamentally unmanagerial. They insisted that the worst thing about currentinformation systems was their dominationby accountants.MIS and accountingsystemswere both intended to take detailsof the smallestindividualtransactions single line on an invoice)and fromthese create (a and of a hierarchy reports,summaries, totals.The systemsmen had little respect for the formalizedand slowly developing practices of accountancy. They felt that accountingwas "onlyone majorsubsystemof the overallmanagementinformationsystem"and that they were best for placed to designthe overallsystem.They criticizedaccountancy beon looking-delivering information the past performance ing backward of a businessratherthan on its currentstate or (viamodels and simulations) its future.They criticizedit for being inflexibleand ritualisticmore concerned with the observanceof due process than the usefuldominantrole ness of its output.The challengeof MIS to accountants' as suppliersof controlsystemsto managementthereforehinged on its abilityto do a betterjob by overcomingtheir alleged pedantryand historicalfixation.As a result, a great amountof rhetoricwas devoted to the abilityof MIS to forecastconditionsand to highlightand interpret the importantpieces of informationin a sea of routine data (often called the "management exception" by principle).46 Corporatemanagershad long understoodtheir firmsas pyramids defined by supervisoryrelationships,where authoritypassed downward from a narrowapex to a broadbase. The systemsmen borrowed this metaphorto describe anotherpyramid-what Paul R. Saunders, who was then leadingAmericanAirlines'attemptto turn SABREinto an all-encompassing MIS, called the "Information Drawings Pyramid." of such pyramidseventuallybecame a standardpart of definitionsof MIS. MIS was the whole of the pyramid-the skeleton of a new pyramid of automatedinformation systemsthatwould entirelysubsumeextions,"Journal of Systems Management (Feb. 1970): 24-7; Theodore A. Smith, "From Burden to Opportunity:The Revolution in Data Processing,"in American Management Association, ed., The Changing Dimensions of Office Management (New York,1960), 26-31. On the importance of"systems" to Litton, see Glenn E. Bugos, "System Reshapes the Corporation," in Hughes and Hughes, Systems, Expertsand Computers. 46 The quote is from A. T. SpauldingJr.,"Is the Total System Concept Practical?"Systems & ProceduresJournal (1964): 28-32, although similar sentiments were widely expressed well into the 1970s, most venomously in Terrance Hanold, "AnExecutive View of MIS," Datamation 18 (Nov. 1972): 65-71.

ThomasHaigh / 48 isting accountingand controlfunctions.This pyramidhad as its bottom level the massof routine,operationsystems,such as payrolland invoicing, that formed the mainstaysof existingcomputer use. Information entered the pyramidat its base and was distilled and processed as it moved upward.In the middle level sat routine reportingand analysis for day-to-daycontrol. But it was the topmost levels that seemed to supportclaims of a managerialrevolution:here, middle-management decisions were automated, models of the firm'soverall profitability were constantlyupdated,and interactivefacilitiesallowedexecutivesto manipulatedataand ask"whatif?"questions.Into these topmostlevels would be fed sales targets,economic information, other manageriand
ally relevant information.47

of Only the new, broad, and mechanisticunderstanding information and the constantlyevolving "blue sky"technology of computing made this pyramidcredible. Redesigningeverythingfrom payrollslips to strategicplanningas part of a huge, interconnectedrealm of informationgave credence to the systemsmen'sinsistencethat all processes formeda single systemthat mustbe plannedand controlledas a whole. information,they insisted, could only High-status,strategic-planning be producedas a "byproduct" low-status,routinedataprocessing.As of informationexperts,the systems men would control this new system, and so asserttheir dominationover more "narrow" specialists,such as EDP staff,operationsresearchanalysts,and accountants. Like so many other expertgroups,they were involvedin makingclaimsaboutthe inherent natureof things;by doing so, they were establishing perceived a worldin which the value of their expertisewas self-evident.Acceptance of informationand systemstechniquesas a kind of universalexpertise would give the systemsmen enormousmanagerial power. The systems men's claims to a generalizedauthoritybased on information acumen did not go unchallenged. Their most vociferous criticwas John Dearden, an experton financialcontrolsat the Harvard Business School. Beginningwith his warning,in 1964, that "systems
4' See Paul R. Saunders, "ManagementInformationSystems,"in Victor Lazzaro,ed., Systenls and Procedures:A Handbookfor Business and Industry (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1968). The idea that operational,tactical, and strategic management was built on a common base of informationwas always inherent in the total MIS concept (Gallagher,ManagementInformation Systems and the Computer, mentions "a sort of pyramidalstructure in the information requirements of a firm'stotal management"),but the illustrationof this relationshipas a pyramid seems to have suddenly emerged during the late 1960s following the seminal Robert V Datamation 13, May 1967. Head, "ManagementInformation Systems: A Critical Appraisal," Head's separation of MIS into three related levels explicitly followed Robert N. Anthony's earlier separationof managerialdecision makinginto strategic, managerialcontrol and operaA tionalcontrollevels in Planningand ControlSystems: FrameworkforAnalysis (Boston, 1965).

Inventing Information Systems / 49 specialists have been developing an approachto managementinformationsystemswhich, if left unchecked,could cause seriousproblems to the companiesthat adopt it"to his insistence,in 1972, that "nosane manufacturingor marketingexecutive would delegate the responsibility for his informationsystem,"he mounted a sustained challenge to the aspirationsof the systems men. Dearden criticized management'swillingness to be seduced by the scientific allure of the computer. He insisted that senior management had little real use for masses of logisticaldata on their company's operations,however conand rapidlyit could be delivered. The informationpyramid veniently simplydid not exist.48 Dearden'smost fundamentalchallenge to MIS was his insistence that no generalizedset of principlesor practiceslinked differentkinds of managementinformation.Dearden observedthat the systems men had achievedsome success in tacklingthe problemsmanycorporations were experiencingin logistics by tying together production,distribution, and orderingprocedures.This area had been an organizational vacuumin many firms,and he was willing to concede that it deserved to be one of a smallnumberof firmwide"vertical" information systems, better-established for accountingand personnel. But joining systems he ridiculedthe idea that such techniquescould be appliedto the provision of informationand control systemsin areaslike financeor marneeds were entirelyseparate.The "systems keting,whose information he added, "ismerelyan elaboratephrasefor good manageapproach," ment."If companieswere havingproblemswith their financialcontrol systems,then the answerwas to recruitbetter managers.The only adcould possiblyoffer would be lower advantagethat computerization ministrative costs.49 Dearden questionedthe very idea of a systemsprofession,decrying "atendency to classifycertainpeople as 'information systems specialists'and certainorganization as 'systemsdepartments' components and then to considerthese people and departmentsas specialistsin the
48See John Dearden, "Can Management Informationbe Automated?"Harvard Business Review 42 (March-April 1964): 128-35, and "MIS Is a Mirage,"Harvard Business Review 50 (Jan.-Feb. 1972): 90-9. 49Thequotation, and most of the precis in this paragraph,is taken from Dearden, "MIS Is A Mirage,"1972. Discussion of "vertical" information systems and the desirabilityof a logistics information system can be found in John Dearden, "How to Organize Information Systems," Harvard Business Review 43 (March-April 1965): 65-73. See also John Dearden, "Computers: No Impact on Divisional Control," Harvard Business Review 45 (Jan.-Feb. 1967): 99-104, and "Myth of Real-Time Management Information,"Harvard Business Review 44 (May-June 1966): 123-32.

ThomasHaigh / 50 entire continuumof the developmentof an informationsystem."The technical work of programming, rather than the managerialwork of could be given to a centralizedstaff group. Dursystem specification, ing the mid-1960s, Dearden was one of only a few critics to dispute publicly the wisdom of the systems men's dreams; many may have sharedhis views but expressedthem throughignoringthe topic. To the boostersof MIS he seemed like a lone reactionary who failed to understand what they were saying. But as time went by and the promised failed to arrive,the tide began to turn.50 breakthroughs MIS: Some Dreams Have Turned to Nightmares The biggest problemwith MIS turned out to be the impossibility of building one. MIS was, to borrowa term from the 1980s, perhaps the ultimatein vaporware: excitingtechnologythat never quite coaan lesced. There is no record of any major company managingto produce a fully integrated,firmwideMIS during the 1960s, or even the 1970s-still less one that included elaborate economic forecasts or linked suppliersand producers.While technicaland managerialcommunitieswere flooded with materialsdescribingthe idea of such systems, practicalguides explaininghow to get to there from here were conspicuous by their absence. Those that did appear,in places like the low-circulation Total Systems Newsletter, offered platitudes on the need to carefullyplan and manage the product and to diagram and test the code. Careful study of task diagrams with boxes that might be labeled "finishthe design"did little to bridge the enormous technological and organizationalbarriers standing between dream and reality.51 During the mid-1960s, many companies published eager boasts about ambitiousMIS projectsunderdevelopment,puttingpressureon their competitorsto announcesimilarprograms.These firmsincluded
50 John Dearden and F. Warren McFarlan, Management Information Systems: Text and Cases (Homewood, Ill., 1966). Another early assault came in Dudley E. Browne, "Management Looks at Management Information Systems,"in American Management Association, ed., Advances in ManagementInformation Systems (New York,1962), 13-16. This criticizes misplaced "computopia"and warns that revolutionarychange risks a "systems dictatorship" more suitable to the Soviet sphere. 51See, for example, R. L. Martino, "A Generalized Plan for Developing and Installing a Management Information System,"TotalSystems Letter 1 (April 1965): 1-6. This was one of the more visible attempts to formulate a structure for MIS. It appeared in an earlier version as "The Development and Installationof a Total Management System,"Data Processingfor Management (April 1963): 31-7, and was reprinted in the collection, Peter P. Schoderbek, ed., ManagementSystems (New York,1967).

Inventing Information Systems / 51 AmeriGeneralElectric, Procter& Gamble,Weyerhaeuser, Pillsbury, can Airlines,Lockheed,and LittonIndustries.RCAoffered for emulation a plan for MIS based on rigorousanalysisof its entire businessthat would take ten years to go from initiationto completion. Only a few firms, mostly those (like IBM, RCA and Univac) with computers to sell, claimed to describe fully operationalsystems. Even these articles followed a patternof startingwith a descriptionof lofty plans for realtime operationand integrationbefore outlining a realitythat was far inless exotic. For example,RCAappliedthe MIS tag to a spare-parts that periodically issued accountingreportsfor manageventorysystem ment. Because a managementinformation systemwas eventuallysupto include everything,pretty much any system could be called posed "phaseI" of the much larger effort. This thinkingwas surely encouraged by the fact that informationfor differentjobs was stored on the same computer:how difficultcould it be to patch them together?But, as actualexperiencesmounted,problemscame into sharprelief.52 One problem was the difficultyin discoveringwhat information managersactuallyneeded. The originalassumptionhad been that one could move down the companyladder,beginningwith the president, he askingeach managerin turnwhat information needed to do his job. Then one could design a systemto deliverthe rightinformation,carefullytailoredfor each person'srequirements.Unfortunately, managers turned out to be ratherpoor at articulatingin formal and complete terms exactlywhat they needed to know.And, even by the most optimistic time scale, the effort would take years to deliver a system, which by that point would surely be out of date. Likewise, the programsthemselvescreated a spiderwebof interdependencies.Because they shared files and fed informationback and forth, the slightest change to the data format used by one could incapacitateall related operations,which, accordingto the "totalsystems"ideas bundled into MIS, meant every aspect of the company.Business informationreThe softwaretools, operatingsystems, quirementschangedconstantly. and project methodologiesdeveloped at this point could not begin to tackle the job.
RCA'sten-year plan is offered for emulation by its customers in James L. Becker, "Planning the Total Information System,"in Alan D. Meacham and Van B. Thompson, eds., Total Systems (Detroit, 1962), 66-70. Tradejournalsregularlyprofiled modest systems as "PhaseI" of a much largereffort; for example, see Anonymous,"TotalSystem in the Mill,"Business Automation (1965): 22-9; William F. Cooke and William J. Rost, "StandardCost System: A Module of a Management InformationSystem,"Journal of Systems Management20 (March 1969): 11-16. For RCA'sspare parts system, see Henry M. Cohen, "A MIS That Scores As A Decision-Maker,"Business Automation 14 (Nov. 1967): 44-8.
52

ThomasHaigh / 52 of Computerhardware the era, thoughpowerfulenough to inspire enormousconfidencewhen comparedto earlier machines,was hopelessly inadequateto the taskof buildinga MIS. Systemsmen and management consultantstended to state as a matterof faith that business were constrainedmuch more resultsachievedwith computerhardware thanby technologand unimaginative application by poor management ical limitations.While largelytrue, it did not follow that the computer hardwareof the 1960s was powerful enough to supportany conceivable system-still less that this could be achievedeconomically. MIS was ubiquitousin theory and unknownin practice. A 1966 firmsconductedby the consultingfirm Booz surveyof manufacturing Allen & Hamiltonfound that firmswere beginningto followexpertadvice by using their computersfor more thanjust routineadministrative tasks and then auditingthe effectiveness of the results. But, although firmssurveyedwas reportedto be working everyone of the thirty-three for on "objectives an ultimatetotal systemsconcept,"each viewed this merely as an exercisein tying togetherthe inputs and outputsof separate operational systems.Not one firmhad anyimmediateplan to build a true MIS, nor did any firmplan to installa terminalin its boardroom. Two years later, RichardG. Canning,publisherof the thoughtfuland respected newsletter EDP Analyzer, asked, "What'sthe Status in MIS?"He concluded that the best currentlydeployed systems were limited, but useful, producingscheduled reports of genuine value to top managementbut makinglittle use of managementscience techniques. Little real interest existed among top managementfor graphical displaysor personalinteractionwith the system. However,he exof models and the incorporation pected increaseduse of mathematical from outside the firmduringthe yearsto come.53 information 1968 a backlashagainstMIS was takingshape within elite corBy porate management,which was chronicledby Fortune,HarvardBusiof TomAlexander Fortuneclaimedthat alness Review,and McKinsey. was computerizingfaster than ever, managersfound though business their investmentsever less productiveas they moved furtherfromcler"Mostcompanies-even the most advanced-seem to ical automation: agree that computershave been oversold-or at least overbought.It turns out that computershave rarelyreduced the cost of operations, were losing even in routineclericalwork."He suggestedthat managers
53JamesW Taylor and Neal J. Dean, "Managingto Manage the Computer," Harvard Business Review 44 (Sept.-Oct. 1966): 98-110; Neal J. Dean, "The Computer Comes of the Age,"Harvard Business Review 46 (Jan.-Feb. 1968): 83-91; RichardG. Canning, "What's Status of MIS?"EDP Analyzer 7 (Oct. 1969): 1-14.

Inventing Information Systems / 53 to faith in the abilityof models and simulations automatetheir workor into an exactscience.54 to transform decision-making Meanwhile, accountants struck back. An author from Arthur Youngand Company,for example,warned of looming danger in MIS drivenby naive managersand unscrupulousconsultants.Accountants eahad been warningfor some time of the dangersof "computeritis," and a romanticattachmentto totality.Sensiger computer salesmen, tive to such criticism,the elite consultingfirmspulled backfromgrand claims and reasserted their managerialcredentials. A much-quoted McKinseyreport of 1968 dismissed, almost in passing, "the so-called total managementinformationsystems that have beguiled some computer theoristsin recent years"and challengedthe very idea that executives were ever going to use computerterminalsdirectly.The report concludedthat top managementmust take controlof computingitself; it could not "abdicatecontrol to staff specialists,"however gifted as technicians.The next year, in a piece entitled "MIS:Some Dreams Have TurnedTo Nightmares," McKinseyconsultant,Ridley Rhind, a endorsed Dearden'sview of computerizedMIS as a useful but limited tool, best suited to operationalmanagementand logistics."[T]hedata that are collected to assist in the managementof daily operationsare basicallyof very little interest, even in summaryform, to the top manRhindwent on to dismissthe "dreamlike" agementof the corporation." that the computer qualityof most articleson total systems:"[P]romises can eliminateshortages,delaysor inaccuracies availableinformation in are made only by those who have a vested interest in computerdevelopmentworkand who believe that the more ambitiousthe system,the greaterthe status."Expertisein computersystems,he insisted,did not translateto expertisein managementcontrolsystems.55 Even managementscience researcherswith an interest in modeling techniquesbegan to retreatfrom the idea that a group of staff experts shouldproduce an enormousmodel of the whole companyto be used by the president in evaluatingmajordecisions. Curtis H. Jones, anotherHarvardexpert,suggestedthat such models gave only an illu54TomAlexander,"ComputersCan't Solve Everything,"Fortune 80 (Oct. 1969): 126-9, 168, 171. 55 The ArthurYoungauthor is Robert G. Donkin, "Willthe Real MIS Stand Up?"Business Automation 16 (May 1969); McKinsey and Company, Unlockingthe Computer'sProfitPotential (New York, 1968); Ridley Rhind, "Management Information Systems: Some Dreams Have Turned to Nightmares," Business Horizons (June 1968): 37-46. For the warnings of see "computeritis," the article written by two members of ArthurAndersen, J. W. Konvalinka and H. G. Trentin, "ManagementInformation Systems,"Management Services 2 (Sept.-Oct. 1965): 27-39.

Thomas Haigh / 54
sion of optimality, while freezingand hiding assumptionsmade by the model builders.Models should supportmanagementdecision making, not automateit. Rejectingthe systems men's idea of MIS as a tool to he filterthe information given to each manager, argued,"Staffpersonof nel ... shouldbe chargedwith the responsibility expanding,not rewhich the executivescan the numberand rangeof alternatives ducing, evaluateeasily."56 outputcapabilities Companiestended to addvoluminousstatistical to their existing operationalsystems and call the result MIS. They hoped to connect the pieces with analysisand modelingtools at a later date. William M. Zani, a Harvardbusiness professor and computer inabilmanagementexpert,attributedthis failureto top management's was to figureout what strategicinformation needed and then to asity sign a suitablypowerful systems team to deliver it. Instead, existing insystemswere automatedand recycled,resultingin a "'management formationsystem' [that] is merely a mechanism for cluttering manirrelevant printouts." agers'deskswith costly,voluminous,and probably He concluded, "No tool has ever arousedso much hope at its creation in as MIS, and no tool has provedso disappointing use."57 The Fate of MIS MIS did not suddenly go away in 1968. It remained the central topic in discussionsof corporatecomputingwell into the 1970s. But its became more problematicand its usage more fragmeaninggradually mented over the decade that followed.Indeed, MIS retainedsufficient cachet among the elites of the corporateand business school computing world that in 1968 they chose to name a new, more exclusive,professional associationthe "Society for ManagementInformationSystems" (SMIS). Despite this title, members of the new society were never able to agree on what a managementinformationsystem was.
Curtis H. Jones, "AtLast: Real Computer Power For Decision Makers,"Harvard Business Review 48 (Sept.-Oct. 1970): 75-89. Similar sentiments were presented in James B. Boulden and Elwood S. Buffa, "CorporateModels: On-Line, Real-Time Systems," Harvard Business Review 48 (July-Aug. 1970): 65-83. The was not universally acknowledged, however; for example, one prominent management theorist held that executives were incapable of properly understandinginformation and so should rely on experts to guide them through its selection and application. See Russell L. Ackoff, "ManagementMisinformationSystems," ManagementScience 14 (1967): B147-56. 57WilliamM. Zani, "Blueprintfor MIS,"Harvard Business Review 48 (Nov.-Dec. 1970): 95-100. The bottom-up nature of MIS efforts in practice is also discussed in F Warren McFarlan, "Problems in Planning the Information System," Harvard Business Review 49 (March-April 1971): 75-89.

Inventing Information Systems / 55 The enduringpower of the term derived in part from its very vagueness. A savvyveteranrecalled: [The MIS conceptwas spreadthrough]a strugglethatwent on in mostcompanies controlof the wholeprocessof developing for systems andoperating them.The questionwaswhethersuchsystems were to be operatedby broadgauge men or narrowspecialists.I thinkit is usefulforus to recallthe originof the termandto realize thatit beganas a merchandizing and "gimmick" hasbeen perpetuated to emphasize... the typesof people who shouldcontrolthe designof suchsystems. It was possible to repudiate any popular definition of MIS (perhaps one that stressed "totality" seemed too fixatedon executive use of or terminals)without havingto renounce a shared commitmentto MIS, whatever it turned out to be. This interpretiveflexibility,more than else, accountsfor the enduranceof MIS as a term,even though anything its meaningwas never settled and was alwayschanging.58 One of the most importantof these divergingapproachesto MIS, and one promoted by SMIS founder and SABRE veteran Robert V. Head, emphasized the "database." Rather than constructinga total system in which all managementtasks,informationrequirements,and were rigidlyencoded, MIS came to be seen as a "reserresponsibilities voir"for the storageof informationsharedbetween all programs.One authorcalled it "thecollectionof all datathat are relevantto executive decision making."Managerswere expected to decide for themselves which informationthey needed and to go fishingfor it. This reflected an importantshift from the originalidea of MIS constitutingan informationsystem because it was an assemblageof processes actingto inform management,to a more abstractsense of MIS being an information systembecauseit storeda lot of information. systemwastended The by the "database administrator" (DBA)-originally envisioned as a of information-whose mandatewouldtranscend guardian all corporate the technical minutiae of computer systems. Although the practical impactof database systemsin the 1970swas as a tool for programmers,
5A fascinating round-table discussion, during which the SMIS leadership strive and fail to define MIS, is transcribedin Society for Management Information Systems, Research Report One: What Is A Management Information System (Chicago, 1972). The quote is from Milton Stone and is on page 7. Stone elsewhere defined SMIS as "onlythe infosystemselite ... large companies, big government, well-heeled campuses." Milt Stone, "Editor'sPoint: The House That Incompetence Built," Infosystems 19 (Oct. 1972): 25. SMIS was eventually redubbed the Society for InformationManagement(SIM), in which guise it persists to this day. MIS Quarterlyremainsa leading academicjournalon the use of computers in organizations.

ThomasHaigh / 56 the management literature viewed their role as a continuation of the MIS idea. As Richard L. Nolan, author of Managing the Data ResourceFunction, explainedin 1974, "Writings MIS have waned on and have largely been replaced by writings on the Data recently
Base."59

MIS remaineda very popularterm in academicdiscussionsof corporate computing.During the 1970s, the growingcommunityof uniInformaversityresearcherswritingin the SMISjournalManagement tion SystemsQuarterlycould rejectthe approaches MIS adoptedby to practitionerswhile claiming to have devised a new, improvedone of their own. Some began to work on constructingmore formalmethodologies for systemsdevelopment,while others suggestedthat an effective MIS could be built only by studyingthe failureof earlierattempts and discoveringhow managersactuallyused information.In business schools, MIS was the main title under which the topic of computers and organizations entered the curriculum. Courses,departments,proand textbooksof MIS proliferatedin the early 1970s. Manyof fessors, these textbooksfinessedthe difficulttechnicalproblemsand kept alive the dream of a "total" system. But eventuallybusiness schools settled on MIS as a catchall term for the use of computers in corporations. Meanwhile,MIS slowlyreplacedEDP as the name for corporatecomputer departments,despite the fact that these departmentsremained and operationalmatters far more involved in routine administrative than in managerialdecision making. Informationretained its allure, however problematicit proved as a departmentalmandate.As Head admitted,"Itis perhapsthe systemsdesignerswho reallywant an MIS,
and not the top management group."60

Onlyduringthe 1980s did the term MIS become so taintedby failure, reflectingthe persistent realityof computerwork'slow status in
9The definition is from Michael S. Morton and Robert McCosh, "Terminal Costing for Better Decisions," Harvard Business Review 46 (May-June 1968): 147-56. The Nolan quotation is from Richard L. Nolan, Managing the Data Resource Function (New York,1974), 27. See also Robert V. Head, "MIS-II:Structuringthe Data Base,"Journal of Systems Management (Sept. 1970): 37-8. For an early definition of MIS as a reservoir of information, see Christian,"The Total Systems Concept," 7. See also James Martin, Computer Data-Base Organization (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1977); Richard L. Nolan, "Computer Data Bases: The Future is Now,"Harvard Business Review 50 (Sept.-Oct. 1973). 6The quote is from SMIS, Research Report One, 1972, 11. An example of a 1970s MIS textbook with a business-school orientation is Robert G. Murdick and Joel E. Ross, MIS In Action (St. Paul, 1975). Dozens of such volumes were published during the late 1960s and 1970s, many of them paying considerable attention to "the systems approach" as an allencompassing philosophy. For examinationsof management'sactual use of information, see Henry C. Lucas, Why Information Systems Fail (New York, 1975), and Henry Mintzberg, Impedimentsto the Use of ManagerialInformation (New York,1975).

Inventing Information Systems / 57 the eyes of management, that academics and management writers ratherthan to redefinition. flockedto alternatives Academicresearchers "decisionsupportsystems," "execor adopted"managerial computing," utive informationsystems"as terms for computersystemsdesigned to help executivesin theirwork.Operationsresearchalso had to retrench and refocus on areasamenableto its approaches,givingup dreamsof firmwide models.Bothdisciplines shiftedfromthe informationstrategic, which held that executive support or process impyramiddoctrine, with the whole body of opprovementnecessarilyrequiredintegration erationaldata. Even so, MIS has lived on into the twenty-first century as a blanketterm for the use of computersin corporatemanagement and is still found in the titles of many universitycourses, textbooks, andjournals.61 Information Systems:The Legacy of the Systems Men and of Widespreadfaith in the practicality desirability a totallyintegrated management informationsystem represented a high-water mark in a particularapproach to corporate management. This approach stressed centralization,integration,a technocratic,"systemsbased"form of management,tight integrationof functions,entry into unrelatedmarkets,the transferof power from divisionalline managers to corporate staff experts, and the denigrationof "seat-of-the-pants and in management" "intuition" favorof formalizedmodels and procedures.It was markedby faithin the virtuesof bigness,centralplanning, and rationality, technologyto solve all problems.Nothing could be less fashionable today.Withthe fall fromgraceof the systemsapproachand the miniscule capabilities,by modern standards,of computersin the 1960s, the whole idea now seems as absurdas Soviet economic dominance. Managementscholarsand populistgurushave given us instead a cornucopiaof liberation,teamwork,decentralization, entrepreneurs, inspirational leadership,corporatecultureas a competitivetool, "intra61As early as 1973, editorial writers in the usually upbeat Infosystems had begun to identify MIS as a "dirtyword"in need of rehabilitation.It informed its readers that Univac "deliberatively refrains from using the term MIS" for its large-scale, integrated system. Laton McCartney,"ToMIS but not to MIS at Univac,"Infosystems (June 1973): 35-8. See also Anonymous, ". .. MIS, the Impossible Dream?"Infosystems 20 (Feb. 1973): 70. For the switch to new terms for research on computer systems to support executives, see John F. Rockartand Christine V. Bullen, eds., The Rise of Managerial Computing: The Best of the Centerfor Information Systems Research (Homewood, Ill., 1986). The use of MIS to describe specific computerized management and control systems now seems limited to the public sector, though the related term "informationmanagement systems"remains more generally popular.

ThomasHaigh / 58 preneurs,"dancinggiants, and a tight focus on core competencies. In were disposed of, peripheralbusithe 1990s, corporateheadquarters nesses divested,and supportfunctionsoutsourced. Yet, despite the disappearanceof the managerialphilosophy on which MIS was founded, it was only duringthe 1990s that similarsystems were pursued, and realized,on a broadscale. Business spending on computer technology in the 1990s dwarfedthat of the 1960s, but manyof the most importantgoals of recent corporatecomputingwere direct continuationsof parts of the MIS agenda. The idea of a single multidivisional enormousoperationalsystem for multinational, corporationshas been pursued in the guise of enterpriseresourceplanning (ERP) systems:softwarepackagesto integratefinancialoperations,human resources,sales, and logisticson a globalscale. Likewise,the idea has resource" moved backinto the mainof informationas a "strategic stream of business through the promotion of the chief information officer (CIO) as a new breed of business-focusedtechnologymanager. warehouses," Manycompanieshave constructed,at vast expense, "data which are the realizationof the 1960s MIS (and 1970s "database") ideal of an interactivereportingsystem built on top of an all-encompassingreservoirof corporateinformation.Recent discussionof "business intelligence"sounds identical to claims made in the 1960s that MIS computerscould take massesof dataand turn them into real-time The Internethas made old dreamsof for information businessstrategy. as so "total" to encompassboth suppliersand customersinto systems the new "holy grail"of electronic commerce. "Information systems" (IS) remaina common name for the corporatecomputingdepartment. Only the names (electronic data processing, total systems, management informationsystems)have been changed in order to remove the tarnishof past failure.As CIO Magazineaskedin 1995, "Isinformation it technologymakingprogress-or do we just repackage periodically?"62 trendsbe reconciled?For How can these apparently contradictory one, a persistentstrainof technologicalutopianismcontinues to make old ideas seem new. Computer hardware increases in power fast the enough to sustaina faith that the newest hardware, latest methodor the most recent softwaretool will solve enduring structural ology, The continuing and culturalproblems.Anotheransweris institutional.
62W.F. Dyle, "The Name Game,"CIO Magazine (15 Jan. 1995). On ERP, see Thomas H. Davenport, "Puttingthe Enterprise in the Enterprise System,"Harvard Business Review 76 Michael (July-Aug. 1998). For a presentation of business intelligence in MIS-like terms, see Vizard, "Yahooand IBM Head for a Collision on the Road to Business Intelligence," Infoworld.com (12 Feb. 2001).

Inventing Information Systems / 59 of computerization managementsystemshas caused a real, if often unfrom intended, transferof controlover manyaspects of administration line managersto staff specialists.Computerdepartmentsdevelop their own prioritiesand assumptions.The cultures of corporatecomputing and corporatemanagementremainmutuallydistrustful, althoughboth continue to hope that a new breed of manageris poised to bridge the gulf separatingthe stubbornlydisconnected worlds of the executive suite and the computer room. Finally,we are left with the uncritical acceptanceof the particularconcepts of informationand information systems shaped by the systems men. In this "information age," it remains easy for consultants,computerstaff, and computersalesmento
justify investments in information technology.63

As consultantand formerreengineeringadvocateThomasDaven"Ourfascination withtechnologyhas madeus forget portwroterecently, the key purposeof information: informpeople."Davenportsuggests to the adoptionof a broader,more "ecological" approachto corporateinin a realisticunderstanding organizational of formation,grounded politics and an acknowledgment managers' of continuedrelianceon informal and unstructuredinformation.He faults continued reliance on a "machineengineering" idea of information systems.Sensibleas his advice is, the idea of informationsystems was defined within business only throughthe seeminglyall-powerful computertechnologyand systems ideologyof the earlycold-warera. It seems unlikelythat the idea of informationcan ever truly be separatedfrom these roots: it is just too historically culturally and charged.For better or worse, to speakof as an informationsystem continues to imply that it should something be engineeredby an information specialistand built using information technology.64 While MIS, the databaseadministrator, the CIO were all supand to turnauthority over information into a bridgebetween the two posed worlds of managementand computing,each in turn slipped back into the technical.Ironically, systems men of the 1950s themselves anthe ticipated many of the most powerful recent critiques of excessively technical computer use through their critical discussion of the "artisans"and "technicians" dataprocessing.They promotedthe adminof istrativetechnologyexpert as an "internal consultant" long before the
For a manager'swide-rangingand historicallyinformed discussion of structuralissues in 63 corporate IT management as "politics,"see Paul A. Strassmann,The Politics of Information Management(New Canaan, Conn., 1995). 64ThomasH. Davenport with Laurence Pursak,Information Ecology: Mastering the Information and KnowledgeEnvironment (New York,1997), 3.

ThomasHaigh / 60 term became fashionable;they critiqued the failure of computers to provideeconomic returnsa quarterof a centurybefore Robert Solow noticed the impact of computerseverywherebut in the productivity became a catch phrase; they figures and the "productivity paradox" and definedthe true purposeof the computeras information organizational transformation, rather than automation,three decades before ShoshanaZuboff gave us the verb "to informate"; they spoke of "rethree decades before Michael firmwidebusiness systems engineering" Hammermade his fortunewith the same idea.5 Indeed, business process reengineering(BPR), the leading management fad of the mid-1990s, was an inadvertent,but remarkably faithful,returnto the systemsmovementof the immediatepost-World War II period. As early as 1954, a punch-cardsystems man wrote, "A machinesystemshouldnever be simplyimposedon an existingmanual system. Instead,we are told, there should be a complete re-engineering of procedures."Both 1950s and 1990s re-engineeringempowered to superior hierarchy "engineer" expertsoutsidethe normalmanagerial to reorganizework around new technologies, to design procedures, functions,and to dismantleexistingorsystemsthat crossedtraditional The structuresindiscriminately. terrainabandonedby the ganizational men as they driftedfrom administrative generalisminto comsystems with greatsuccess by armiesof manageputer workhas been occupied ment consultants, thoughthe mystiqueand apparentelevationfrominwas ternalpoliticsenjoyedby consultants perhapsalwaysimpossibleto in a staff group. Meanwhile,manyfirmssought out managers replicate withoutcomputingexperienceto head information technologydepartments, on the theorythat such people wouldbe less likelyto findthemselves seduced by technology and thus would attend more closely to businessneeds.6 Like many more recent computer experts with executive aspirations, the systemsmen ultimatelyfound their increasingidentification with the computera poisonedchalice (or perhapsa golden shackle).In the 1950s they worked in systems and procedures departmentsthat chartseverallevels down were mostlysmall,buriedin the organization to under the corporatecontroller,devoted primarily forms and tweak65For a recent summaryof the productivityparadoxdebate, see Jeff Madrick,"Computers: Waiting for the Revolution,"New YorkReview of Books 45 (26 March 1998): 29-33. The distinction between automating and informatingis central to ShoshanaZuboff, In the Age of the Smart Machine:The Future of Workand Power (New York,1988). 66The quote is from G. E. Killian, "After the Honeymoon," The Hopper 5 (Oct. 1954). For an influential early account of 1990s reengineering, see Michael Hammer, "Reengineering Work-Don't Automate, Obliterate,"Harvard Business Review 68 (July-Aug. 1990).

Inventing Information Systems / 61 ing clericalprocedures,and dependent on the whims of executivesfor their continued existence. By the late 1970s, their profession had largelymerged into corporatecomputing,and they filled senior positions within large, secure, and stable computerdepartments.But their embrace of informationultimatelyfailed to turn control of the computer into real corporatepower.Unlike financialexperts,whose corporate authorityrose steadilythroughthe twentieth century,they were unable to win "managerial" status for their arcane techniques. When was wedded to the computer,it became inmanagementinformation formationthat fell into the technical sphere, not computer expertise that rose towardthe managerial. the 1990s, "systems meant By analyst" a senior mainframeprogrammer, an expert in managementtechnot niques. Todaythe title itself appearsto be in terminaldecline. "Informationsystemspecialist" now meansa juniorcomputertechnician,not someone who redesignsorganizations. phraseMIS is now strongly The associatedwith preciselythe kind of insular,bureaucratic, out-of-date and narrowlytechnical approachesto computer managementthat it was coined to escape from. The systems men became the technicians they had once liked to mock.67

67 the On eclipse of systems analystas a job title, see Tim Phillips, "The Last of an Evolving Breed," The Guardian (London) (26 Feb. 1998), online edition. MIS is used as a foil to the desirable qualities of the CIO in Thomas Kiely,"The Once and Future CIO," CIO Magazine (Jan. 1991): 44-58.